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Again and Again, Literature Provides an Outlet for the Upended Lives of Refugees

“I learned the value of humor during the time of Stalinist terror,” Kundera once said. “I was 20 then. I could always recognize a person who was not a Stalinist, a person whom I needn’t fear, by the way he smiled. A sense of humor was a trustworthy sign of recognition. Ever since, I have been terrified by a world that is losing its sense of humor.”

Christopher Hitchens, in his memoir “Hitch-22,” said something similar. The fatwa against his friend Salman Rushdie crystallized his own values, and they are those that any liberal society should prize: “In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humor, the individual and the defense of free expression. Plus, of course, friendship.”

Observing the bravery of the Ukrainian people makes us wonder how we’d bear up under similar circumstances. We’d all like to be George Plimpton, helping to tackle Sirhan Sirhan.

How would we bear up? One answer arrives in, of all places, Quentin Tarantino’s novelization of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Watching America’s former president, and some news channels, play footsie with Putin, I found myself recalling this chunk of Tarantino’s novel:

“Cliff never wondered what Americans would do if the Russians, or the Nazis, or the Japanese, or the Mexicans, or the Vikings, or Alexander the Great ever occupied America by force. He knew what Americans would do. They’d [expletive] their pants and call the [expletive] cops. And when they realized the police not only couldn’t help them but were working on behalf of the occupation, after a brief period of despair, they’d fall in line.”

Putin’s nuclear warheads are on trigger alert. If your politics run to the let’s-demolish-government variety, perhaps this is the moment you’ve longed for, for the born-again a moment of double rapture.

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