View Full Version : Milan Kundera: The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting
Why The Book of Laughter and Forgetting?
Because laughter can be a key to understand an absurd world. Because, as Kundera writes, the struggle of Man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. Because the author lived in a country where laughing could be a crime and men could easily be erased from history books.
I wouldn?t know how to define this book: a collection of novellas; ruminations on Prague during the Soviet regime; the memoirs of one Milan Kundera; an essay on history; metafiction; or just smut.
The Soviet specter in the former Czechoslovakia dominates some of the book?s narratives: here we meet a man who struggles against the inevitability being crushed by a regime he loathes; a woman who flees the Soviet bloc and realizes it?s too late to ever get her former life back. But it?s also a book about mothers, and poets, and college students studying Ionesco, and untranslatable Czech words, and disturbing children in a mysterious island, and copious amounts of sex.
I would compare Kundera?s style to Jos? Saramago?s. It?s a traditional prose style, but interweaving the fictional narratives with playful asides and philosophical dissertations. Sometimes the narrator intrudes on the narrative to disagree with what his characters are thinking, saying or doing. Sometimes he even admits they?re just fictional characters anyway. And once in a while the narrator, who?s probably Kundera, entertains us with some anecdotes about his years in Prague, when he was a blacklisted writer unable to get a job.
After the uneventful Identity I returned to Kundera to discover one of the best books I?ve read this year so far. Reading this book should be a joy for anyone who likes humor, sex, politics and the art of fiction.
Hello Heteronym, could you or anyone else who wants to expand upon the Chapter entitled The Angels, particularly this scene. The only thing my imperfect memory has left of this book is a class in which the girls wearing paper horns discuss Ionesco's Rhinoceros and fly up in the air laughing to the derision of their classmates. It is a wonderful image but I don't have a clue what it is about. And if you have a copy of the book, could you post this scene as it is written.
I adore this book! That was first Kundera's book I've read... and I kept going...
An all Windswept Bones review..
Milan Kundera?s forth published book, 1978?s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is or is not a novel..
This and his The Unbearable Lightness of Being are considered his major works, of his ten published books of fiction. He has authored drama, poetry and most noteworthy many books of essays. His last published novel was Ignorance in 2000.
Philip Roth ( who became a friend of Kundera?s) helped introduce his works to US readers in the late 70?s in Penguins awesome ?Voices From the Other Europe? series which Roth edited. From this great series I was introduced to Bruno Schulz, Danilo Ki? , and Bohumil Hrabal. I had read Kundera?s The Farewell Party (now re-translated as The Farewell Waltz) and The Joke.
The backdrop for our ?novel? up for review here is primarily the events just before and after the 1968 Prague Spring. We already notice something is a bit different by Part 1, entitled, Mama: when we find four of the nineteen numbered sections are author asides, essay-observations of events and the political micro-climate surrounding the characters in the narrative. Later, even more strangely, the Kundera stand-in narrator sits next to us (without introduction) and ask us what we think about character?s feelings of shame toward each other. But he doesn?t really direct his question to us, its more voicing his thoughts out loud as a story teller to himself as he works out the direction the story will take. As each Section closes with the end of that story and new characters and story are introduced in the next part it becomes evident that we are being taken gradually further and further away from the confines of the familiar form in each succeeding part. The pattern of intertwined authorial essays on political and historical philosophy continues throughout all seven parts and expands the book?s axis into realms where ?novels? customarily don?t tread form wise.
Try as I might to avoid reading novels that aspire to be literature like one would pack undersized luggage, I often still find myself trying to cram my preconceived notions of what a novel should be into my figurative ?traditional novel definition? carry-on bag. Didn?t James famously call the novel that ?loose baggy monster?? From Lawrence Sterne and Dennis Diderot I should have learned to leave such reader?s prejudices behind altogether
Complete Review here. (http://windsweptfiction.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/the-book-of-laughter-and-forgetting-milan-kundera/)
Daniel del Real
I had heard a lot of Milan Kundera and The Unbearable Lightness of Being
was a book I felt bad of not reading. Then with the highest expectations finally I picked up the book and I felt dissapointed. It's not a bad book,no way, but I expected something way better by all the comments by everyone who recommended it. Now I've been hearing a lot of good comments about The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and I guess that it's about time to give Kundera another shot.
Thanks for the review Randy, you always persuade me to get books I've wanted to read for long time ago.
I read this book sometime in the spring and really enjoyed it. Now I couldn't really tell you very much at all about it, except that one character shouts the line "I'm Bobby Fischer, I'm Bobby Fischer" to my amusement at one point. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting was exactly that to me; I laughed and then I forgot.
Milan Kundera is fantastic, his writing is light yet intricate. This is the perfect antidote to the 'classics' and is, to my mind, incredibly modern. Although having read a few other Kundera's I feel that he is a little limited in his themes, the ones that are recycled are: infidelity, hedonism, Bohemia, and anything associated with totalitarianism and communist Russia's invasion of Bohemia. Although this happens to the best of authors, Kundera's plots always involve these self-same themes (although it allows some variation), so its a thing to keep in mind when picking up multiple books by this author.
Ah, The Angels. It's my favorite part of the novel, it introduced me to Eugene Ionesco and especially Paul ?luard. His exposition of ?luard's behavior in the state execution of surrealist artist Zavis Kalandra shocked me, since I've always regarded the surrealists very highly. I couldn't believe that this former surrealist-turned-communist could ignore his former colleagues' pleas to save the life of a person. Some time later I read Pablo Neruda's Memoirs, in which he paints ?luard as a great person and friend. So I'm still torn between admiration and repulsion for this French poet.
Anyway, about the scene in particular: the flying up in the air is metaphorical. Two two girls go to class with silly paper horns to give a presentation on Ionesco's Rhinoceros. They're not very liked by the class. When they turn their back on their colleagues, one of them kicks both of them on the ass, eliciting wild laughter from the whole class. The teacher, thinking this is part of the presentation, starts laughing too. The girls start convulsing, but the teacher thinks they're dancing and joins them. The three start dancing in circle, and tears of luaghter become tears of joy, much to surprise of the whole class. The text next says they start floating until they disappear. Now why do I say this is metaphorical?
Earlier Kundera had discussed dancing and the circle as symbols of the communist regime. He argues that in a single file, if you leave its trajectory you can always return because a single file is open by nature. But a circle is closed and once out you can never return. Once upon a time Kundera danced with the others in the circle of communist good behavior, but then he left it. Why?
Because Zavis Kalandra was executed.
He couldn't understand how people knew he had been hanged and yet didn't care, so he drifted apart. He was outside the circle, watching the dance from the orbit while ?luard and the others floated away to another world he could never rejoin, much like the students and the teach disappear in the air, leaving the other students behind. This is his metaphor for the people who lock themselves in their own world, oblivious to what is around them. It's a fascinating way of looking at a totalitarian regime.
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