Victoria Song's Reviews > The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
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's review
May 10, 11

bookshelves: fiction, biography, existentialism, short-stories, magical-realism
Recommended to Victoria by: Amy
Recommended for: Mischa Li
Read from April 14 to 21, 2011

The most fascinating thing about Milan Kundera’s writing style is his ability to seamlessly thread together fiction with snippets from his own life. The result is a deeply personal, insightful book fused with philosophical musings on the nature of both laughter and forgetfulness set against Kundera’s own experiences (and forgetfulness) of the Prague Spring Revolution in 1968. While jumping back and forth between fiction and semi-autobiographical passages can, in the hands of a lesser author, be jarring, the prose in “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” is fluid, poignant and smooth. His style is relatable while writing about complex ideas, and here, Kundera offers a clear roadmap to where the book is leading up to. Like Vonnegut, it’s nearly impossible to read a Kundera book without looking up at the clock and marveling at the number of pages you’ve managed to fly through in the space of a couple of hours.

As with most works of fiction following this sort of episodic structure, consistency is hard to pin down. Tonally, the book is pitch-perfect—but some picking-and-choosing is inevitable as dictated by a reader’s personal interest. While I found nearly all the sections to be enjoyable, Tamina’s struggle to remember her dead husband, Kundera’s own recollection of his days spent as a fraudulent astrologist, and his section on the untranslatable “litost” were the highlights of the book.

Readers should do themselves the favor of disassociating the book with “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” before reading lest expectation leads to disappoitnment. There are definite similarities between the two books, however, “Laughter and Forgetting” delves much deeper into Kundera’s own personal story, and is thus imbued with a stronger undercurrent of political dissidence. Tamina comes the closest to being a real protagonist (fictional or otherwise) in the book, but like Tim O’Brien’s “The Things We Carried,” the characters mostly serve as a metaphor for Kundera to hash out his own thoughts on the principal themes of laughter and forgetting. The same could be argued for Sabina, Tomas, and Tereza—but its much more obviously so here.

All in all, a solid read for those with existentialist or philosophical readings. Bonus points to those interested in Soviet-occupied Europe, Prague or Czechoslovakia in general.

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Reading Progress

04/14/2011 page 38
04/20/2011 page 198
62.0% "*Petrach was holding the student by the arm and leading him to his own distant suburb.*"
04/21/2011 page 238
75.0% ""Why is Tamina on a children's island?""
04/21/2011 page 285
90.0% ""The gaze of a man has often been described.""
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