Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting - Milan Kundera

the book of laughter and forgetting
milan kundera
c. 1979
228 pages
completed 1/21/2010

read for: before i die challenge, 100 greatest novels, 1001 books

*may contain spoilers*

In February 1948, Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to address the hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens packed into Old Town Square.

A series of short narratives, mostly set in and around Prague during the 1970s, united by the common themes of laughter and forgetting.

I have to be honest and say that I was a little bored with this book. There were some compelling elements, such as the authors conversation-like writing style. Oftentimes, the author explained some of his thought process, why he wrote a scene a certain way, and sometimes he would stop the fictional narrative completely and tell a personal anecdote to more fully complete a thought. Unfortunately, while I found this writing style extremely unique and engaging, the stories themselves were somewhat bland for me. The narratives were both extremely politically and sexually charged, but instead of being engaged in any of the stories I think I just found most of it odd. I will be the first to admit that I probably did not get everything out of this book that I was supposed to. I'm sure (partly from reading the review quotes on the back of the book) that a lot of this was supposed to be a commentary on the nature of forgetting, both politically and in our own lives, how we rewrite the past as how we want to see it. But I think some of that went over my head.

That being said, there were a few things that stood out to me and made me think a bit. There were a lot of discrepancies between how one person remembered events and how another person did. Each person had there own perspective of the past. In one story there was a woman who was desperate to get some old diaries back because she realized she was beginning to forget her life with her dead husband. There was a particular line I liked, about how she wanted to remember everything, both the good and the bad, "She has no desire to turn the past into poetry, she wants to give the past back its lost body. She is not compelled by a desire for beauty, she is compelled by a desire for life." I think maybe too often when things are gone we remember them in a different light than how we thought of them at the time. We turn memories from reality to "poetry" if you will.

I mostly get frustrated with books like this. I feel like I should have some profound opinions when I'm finished, but more often than not I don't. Instead I'm left thinking that the story (stories, in this case) weren't compelling enough to keep me entertained and that I'm not intellectually inclined enough to be stimulated by the true meanings of the book. But I keep trying.


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