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The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

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Rich in its stories, characters, and imaginative range, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is the novel that brought Milan Kundera his first big international success in the late 1970's. Like all his work, it is valuable for far more than just its historical implications. In seven wonderfully integrated parts, different aspects of human existence are magnified and reduced, reordered and emphasized, newly examined, analyzed and experienced.

313 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1979

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About the author

Milan Kundera

142 books16k followers
People best know Czech-born writer Milan Kundera for his novels, including The Joke (1967), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979), and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), all of which exhibit his extreme though often comical skepticism.

Since 1975, he lived in exile in France and in 1981 as a naturalized citizen.

Kundera wrote in Czech and French. He revises the French translations of all his books; people therefore consider these original works as not translations.

The Communist government of Czechoslovakia censored and duly banned his books from his native country, the case until the downfall of this government in the velvet revolution of 1989.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,479 reviews
Profile Image for Jenn(ifer).
159 reviews933 followers
March 13, 2013
“He was well aware that of the two or three thousand times he had made love (how many times had he made love in his life?) only two or three were really essential and unforgettable. The rest were mere echoes, imitations, repetitions, or reminiscences.”

Ah, the endlessly quotable Kundera. I had to hold myself back from updating my status every other page; there were just so many perfectly composed sentences I wanted to share with you, goodreaders. Sometimes that’s all it takes to win me over, a stream of perfectly composed sentences. Plot shmot. Characters shmaracters. Give me words that I want to scrawl in a notebook. Give me sentences to underscore in indelible ink.

Is it a novel? Is it a short story collection? I can’t say. There are seven semi-interrelated parts, but each could stand alone as its own story. And every once in awhile, Kundera steps in and speaks with his own voice adding a little autobiographical twist, which is odd, but seems to work in this instance. Anyway, story collection, novel, diary, or amalgam of the three, it doesn’t really matter. If you are easily turned off by sexual content, this isn’t the book for you. If you are easily rattled by misogynistic undertones, this isn’t the book for you. But if you are open minded and have a soft spot for artfully-crafted, poignant sentences, I think you will enjoy this book.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56k followers
December 25, 2021
(Book 294 from 1001 books) - Kniha Smíchu a Zapomnění = The Book of Laughter And Forgetting, Milan Kundera

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is a novel by Milan Kundera, published in France in 1979. It is composed of seven separate narratives united by some common themes. The book considers the nature of forgetting as it occurs in history, politics and life in general.

The stories also contain elements found in the genre of magic realism. Plot summary: Part One: Lost Letters. Part Two: Mama. Part Three: The Angels. Part Four: Lost Letters. Part Five: Litost. Part Six: The Angels. Part Seven: The Border.

کتاب خنده و فراموشی - میلان کوندرا (روشنگران)؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه سپتامبر سال2008میلادی

عنوان: کتاب خنده و فراموشی؛ نویسنده: میلان کوندرا؛ مترجم: فروغ پور یاوری؛ تهران، روشنگران؛ سال1372؛ در162ص؛ چاپ دیگر سال1377؛
شابک9645512840؛ چاپ سوم سال1381؛ چاپ پنجم سال1385؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان چک - سده ی20م

رمان: هفت راوی جداگانه‌ دارد، با داستان‌هایی که مضامین مشترکی همچون: بررسی طبیعت فراموشی در تاریخ، سیاست و به طور کلی زندگی، دارند؛ داستانها عناصری از رئالیسم جادویی در خود نهفته دارند

چکیده داستان: بخش اول: نامه‌ های گمشده؛ بخش دوم: مادر؛ بخش سوم: فرشتگان؛ بخش چهارم: نامه‌ های گمشده؛ بخش پنجم: لیتست؛ بخش ششم: فرشتگان؛ بخش هفتم: مرز؛

پدر «میلان کوندرا»، نوازنده ی پیانو، و شاگرد «لئوش یاناچک (آهنگساز چک)»، بودند؛ علاقه ی «کوندرا» به موسیقی، در بسیاری از آثار ایشان، به ویژه در رمان «شوخی» پیداست؛ «میلان کوندرا» سرایش شعر را، از چهارده سالگی، آغاز کردند، و در هفده سالگی، پس از شکست «آلمان»، به حزب کمونیست کشور پیوستند، و در سال1948میلادی وارد دانشکده ی «سینما» در «پراگ» شدند؛ ایشان در سال1950میلادی، از حزب کمونیست اخراج شدند؛ نخستین مجموعه ی شعر ایشان، با عنوان «انسان؛ بوستان پهناور» است، که در آن کتاب، خوشبینی موجود، و ادبیات دولتی را، مورد نقد قرار داده است، در سال1953میلادی، دومین و آخرین مجموعه ی شعر ایشان، با عنوان «تک گویی» که در سال1957میلادی منتشر شده است، و در آن «رفتارها، کردارهای انسانی، و روابط عاشقانه»، بی‌ پرده بازنمایی شده است؛ ایشان، در سال1960میلادی، گزیده ی اشعار «گیوم آپولینر»، و بازنمایی از آن‌ شعرها را نیز، منتشر کردند، و در همانسال، آموزش ادبیات در دانشکده ی «سینما»، بر دوش ایشان، گذاشته شد؛

نخستین نمایشنامه ی «میلان کوندرا»، با عنوان «مالکان کلیدها» است، که به دوران ترس، و خشونت، در هنگام استیلای «آلمان» می‌پردازد، در سال1961میلادی، به چاپ رسید.؛ «کوندرا»، در بین سال‌های1958میلادی، تا سال1968میلادی، ده داستان، با عنوان «عشق‌های خنده دار» می‌نویسند، که در آن‌ها به «رابطه ی فرد با اجتماع» پرداخته اند، و درونمایه ی بسیاری از رمان‌های آینده‌ ی ایشان نیز، در آنها رونمایی می‌شوند؛ البته «کوندرا» نیز، به همراه بسیاری از هنرمندان، و نویسندگان «چکسلواکی» آنروزها، به حمایت از جنبش اصلاح‌ طلبانه ی حزب کمونیست «چکسلواکی»، در سال1968میلادی، پرداخته اند؛ پس از اشغال کشور، توسط ارتش «شوروی»، در ماه اوت سال1968میلادی، نام ایشان نیز، در فهرست سیاه قرار گرفت، و انتشار کتاب‌هایش، و رونمایی از آن‌ها در کتابخانه‌ ها، قدغن شد، و سپس یکسال بعد، از دانشکده ی «سینما» نیز اخراج گردید؛ در این مدت، «کوندرا» هزینه های خود را با نوشتن طالع‌ بینی‌هایی درمی‌آوردند؛ طالع‌بینی‌ها البته که با نام «میلان کوندرا» چاپ نمی‌شدند، پس از مدتی، باز بسیار محبوب شدند.؛ خود «کوندرا» در همین کتاب «خنده و فراموشی»، به سرنوشتی که دچارش شده بود، اشاره، و شرح آن را بیان می‌کند؛ ایشان در آن دوران، رمان «زندگی جای دیگر است» را نیز، به زبان «فرانسه» می‌نویسند، که در سال1973میلادی، در «فرانسه» چاپ می‌شود؛ البته ایشان نخستین رمان‌ خویش، با عنوان «شوخی» را، در سال1967میلادی نوشته اند؛ «شوخی» از زبان چندین داستان‌گو، روایت می‌شود، و تنها کتاب «کوندرا» است، که در آن خود نویسنده، راوی داستان نیست؛ از رمان «شوخی»، فیلمی نیز در کشور «چک» ساخته شده‌ است.؛ در سال1975میلادی، «کوندرا» به همراه همسرش «ورا»، به دعوت دانشگاه «رن»، به «فرانسه» رفتند، و در آن‌جا بود که همین کتاب «خنده و فراموشی» را بنوشتند؛

در این کتاب، ایشان از واخواهیهای بسیاری از مردمان «چکسلواکی»، که به «اتحاد شوروی» داشتند، سخن می‌گویند؛ کتاب «خنده و فراموشی»، ترکیب ناباورانه ای از یک رمان، و نیز سری داستانهای کوتاه، و اندیشه های خود نویسنده‌ هستند؛ در سال1984میلادی، ایشان کتاب «سَبُکی تحمل ناپذیر هستی (با عنوان «بار هستی»، ترجمه شده‌)» را نوشتند؛ «بار هستی»، محبوب‌ترین کتاب «میلان کوندرا»، به شمار است؛ «سَبُکی تحمل‌ناپذیر هستی»، به مشکلات یک زوج «چک»، با یکدیگر، و دشواری سازگاری با زندگی، در «چکسلواکی»، می‌پردازند؛ در سال1988میلادی، کارگردان «آمریکایی»، «فیلیپ کوفمان»، فیلمی از روی کتاب و با همین نام ساختند؛ با وجود اینکه «کوندرا» باور دارد، که رمان‌هایش برای ساخت فیلم، مناسب نیستند، ولی در ساخت فیلم «سَبُکی تحمل‌ناپذیر هستی»، به عنوان مشاور، در ساخت آن فیلم، همکاری داشته؛ در سال 1990میلادی «میلان کوندرا» کتاب «جاودانگی» را، به بازار خوانشگران تشنه ی واژه های خویش، هدیه دادند.؛ در سنجش با سایر آثار «کوندرا»، که بیش‌تر اندیشه های سیاسی ایشان را می‌نمایاندند، و هنوز هم مینمایانند، این کتاب درون‌مایه ی فلسفی ژرفتری دارد، و اندیشه های جهانی‌تری را، در چینش واژه های خویش، بگنجانیده است

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 04/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 03/10/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Fabian.
940 reviews1,546 followers
December 6, 2020
Just like you've gotta travel to the city of Prague in the Czech Republic to feel it's overpoweringly Wonderland-esque vibe, you must read this novel. Can't tell you about it, you just have to do it yourself. Its bonkers-brilliant! Phantasmagoric originality like this--a virtual valentine full of passions submerged & portends of an oversoul/celestial awareness to that fantastic aforementioned European city--comes very seldom in a reader's so-sweet life. You won't truly forget The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,528 reviews788 followers
January 20, 2023
This work by Milan Kundera, published in 1979 is composed of seven separate narratives united by some common themes. The book considers the nature of forgetting as it occurs in history, politics and life in general. The stories also contain elements found in the genre of Magical Realism (a la Haruki Murakami). Salman Rushdie best explains it: 'A whirling dance of a book... Kundera is a self confessed hedonist in a world beset by politics, and his marvellous novel mingles a hedonist's love of eroticism, fantasy and fun with knife-sharp political satire'. The book is set in the background of Communist ruled Czechoslovakia. A 7 out of 12, strong Three Star read for me

2012 and 2011 read
Profile Image for Mohammed-Makram.
1,390 reviews2,933 followers
October 30, 2022
نحن جميعا أسرى تصور مسكوك عما هو مهم و ما ليس كذلك. إذ نركز نظرنا القلق على المهم بينما خِفية يشن التافه من وراء ظهورنا حربه التي ستغير العالم بعمق و تنقض علينا في غفلة منا.
هذا الكتاب غريب عجيب و مريب أيضا. عالم كونديرا هو عالم متميز لا شك في ذلك فهو يخلط الجد بالهزل و الفلسفة بالبساطة و السياسة بالفن بالتاريخ باللهو بالعبث و يأخذك في رحلات طويلة ثم يعود بك مرة أخرى إلى نقطة البداية دون أن تدري فيما ذهبت و لمَ رجعت.

هو كتاب أقرب للرواية ينقسم إلى سبعة أجزاء. هذا الرقم السحري الذي يخفي آلاف الأسرار. تشترك جميع الأجزاء في أمرين لا ثالث لهما. أما الأول فهو غربة المثقف التشيكي بعد الغزو السوفيتي في السبعينيات و الثاني هو الجنس. يستخدم كونديرا الجنس كمفتاح لكل شيء و أي شيء و يلح في ذلك بلا هوادة و بتفاصيل دقيقة جدا. و إن كان بين الإباحية و الأباحه (التي هي قلة الأدب) شعرة فقد نجح في الحفاظ على تلك الشعرة كثيرا.

هو في النهاية أدب ساخر يريد منك أن تسبح معه بأفكارك في بحار مظلمة و موضوعات فريدة قلما تجدها عند غيره.
Profile Image for Mutasim Billah .
112 reviews189 followers
August 31, 2018
“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is one of the most interesting novels I've ever read, mostly due to its structure. The book is written in seven parts, each part comprising of a story written from multiple perspectives. Some of the central themes of each story are derived from semi-autobiographical accounts of Kundera's days as a political exile. Each story is vaguely connected to each other like small threads that pull at each other. Kundera explores in detail the themes of memory politics, social amnesia and damnatio memoriae.

The picture of Vladimír Clementis standing next to Klement Gottwald, before and after he was edited out of the picture. The picture is one of the first mentions of memory politics made in the book.

The book shares various fictional and non-fictional accounts of people's lives during the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. it is only ironic that the nation that Kundera writes about no longer exists as he knew it. And it makes this novel even more relevant.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews2,957 followers
March 11, 2020
Safe to say Kundera isn't the favourite writer of many feminists. His male characters tend to be hedonistic womanisers who have a tendency to exonerate their egotistic behaviour by positing sexual dichotomies and generalisations. This kind of thing: "For he was aware of the great secret of life: Women don't look for handsome men. Women look for men who have had beautiful women. Having an ugly mistress is therefore a fatal mistake." Now this isn't by any stretch of the imagination a "great secret of life". There's some truth in it but not enough, no matter how much irony you lace it with, to make it some kind of code by which to live. He also sometimes has his male characters fantasise about rape. Harvey Weinstein probably wouldn't have too many problems identifying with a Kundera lead male character. And Kundera returns to this male so often in his fiction that you sense he might be a little vain about his own sexual exploits. Frankly, it can get irritating. Roland Barthes urged readers to separate a literary work from its creator in order to liberate the text from interpretive tyranny. DH Lawrence said, trust the tale, not the teller. But ironically there was an awful lot of the teller in Lawrence's tales. It isn't always easy not to read swathes of autobiography into a writer's work, especially when, as Kundera and Lawrence do, they almost obsessively return to the same characters and themes over and over again. At one point in the novel Kundera tells us love is continual interrogation. "I don't know of a better definition of love." I'm not sure many people would agree. More likely, love is a continual turning of the other cheek. Interrogation comes only at times of crisis. But again it compels us to form an idea of the man Kundera is. He's a man always looking for the exit. But Kundera is aware of this conundrum and makes a point now and again of making an appearance as the author, sometimes disagreeing with something one of his characters thinks or says. In this way he turns ideas and actions into questions. Kundera isn't interested in moral or any other kind of certainties. He's continually crossing borders both physically and figuratively in his novels. Exploring those crude common delineating lines that provide a sham sense of identity. So when he has a character fantasise about rape he's not giving a Harvey Weinstein a leg up, he's not deploying some crass moral wall chart, as commercial fiction does, by which we are to evaluate his characters; he's plumbing the wellsprings of the human condition and compelling us to ask difficult questions. Basically, to my mind, it's crass and lazy to dismiss him as a misogynist.

The novel itself takes a while to get going but the final stretch is fabulous. In his prime, his novels always have an eloquent purity of expression and seem effortless as if they grew organically from a seed. Somewhere between 4 and 5 stars.

As a footnote I started watching the Dustin Hoffman film Little Big Man the other night. Early on a teenage white girl is brought into a Cheyenne camp and is worried she's going to be raped. It's quickly made obvious she harbours a desire to be raped and is disappointed she isn't. All done to get a pornographic giggle from the audience while simultaneously showing us in the most vulgar patronising form imaginable that Cheyenne men aren't animals. At that point I turned the thing off. That's what I call offensive.
Profile Image for Martha.
21 reviews22 followers
August 11, 2007
Ask any Kundera fan which book of his is their favorite, and the answer will inevitably be the first book of his that they read. His unique writing style comes as a revelation at first, but unfortunately can grow irritating the more books of his one reads. "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" is the first one I read, and it holds a special place in my reading history as the one book that I instantly began re-reading as soon as I finished it. If you haven't read Kundera, I would recommend this or the much more famous "The Unbearable Lightness of Being."
Profile Image for Steven Godin.
2,319 reviews2,195 followers
December 13, 2021

A few years ago I was simply blown away by my first encounter with Milan Kundera's work. That was the brilliantly inventive 'Immortality', but I never got to follow it up with anything else, until now. This novel, if one can call it that, is a collection of seven vignettes about characters in Communist Europe during the era of Russian occupation. Kundera embrace politics, sex, philosophy and history, with a seen-it-all cynicism that nevertheless manages to be fascinating and even uplifting. And one thing that struck me again was that even though this can be pigeonholed as intellectual literature, it was addictive and fun, sexy and cool, easy to read, and made me feel brighter, switched on, and more alive by the time the closing pages came about.

The unity to the work is provided by the recurring themes of memory, the pains of laughter, and the mutual deceptions of human relationships, with sex, and a woman's rump as he calls it, never being too far from Kundera's mind throughout. The vignettes are also interspersed with long philosophical passages making Kundera feel more like an older, wiser writer than most of his contemporaries. The characters that crop up are laconic but vivid, and generally caught in a psychological trap. Even when they in his world seem on the verge of turning into a symbolic personae, Kundera invariably intervenes before they become too abstract, and immerses them into a crude and brutal reality. Kundera says in the novel of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting that ‘it is a novel about Tamina, and whenever Tamina is absent, it is a novel for Tamina.’ He says this in which he himself appears and invents Tamina. Modern satirical fantasy, of which this is an exceptionally lively and thoughtful example, gives everyone the same fictional status: himself, his characters, historical figures, and even angels. Part of the game is to try to tell them apart and sort out illusion from reality. He conveys a liking for put-upon but dogged and resilient human beings. Kundera himself has an attractive presence in the book: reminding us of the nature of fantasy by taking responsibility for it, in his role as novelist: but also bringing himself before us in real life, as an individual living under Communism in Czechoslovakia and in exile in France. Fantasy and human reality are never far apart in the book, but they have strange conjunctions.

And then there are the sex scenes, which I generally find lacklustre in literature, were highly erotic here, and very natural, but with moments complicated by double-meanings, so that when Tamina thinks of sex as a joy of angelic simplicity one is to understand, from a sense carried by the word ‘angel’ in the book, that this isn’t good, but bad. Kundera, who also has a serious use for words in their straight sense, chooses to use ‘angel’ in an unusual sense; and especially enjoys using ‘laughter’ in two entirely different senses. There are indeed for example differences between the right and the wrong moments to laugh, or between good and bad, or between a meaning and its opposite, Kundera is really in no doubt at all. He only makes the point that mankind gets confused about these things, and never more so than in his country, in his time. With the energetic fantasy and the apparently odd conjunctions of his book he both represents this confusion and looks for an easy way out of it. He also finds a lot of it exceedingly funny, and he does conveys this. Humour is his most engaging trait, but is also used as one of his weapons. It is what he deploys to ridicule the Communist state and its advocates.

Very Early on, someone says ‘the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’ This is one of the irreversible truths of the novel. Tamina struggles to remember her dead husband; Kundera’s dying father to recall the use of language. The deepest meaning Kundera gives to his political theme is not through satire but by evoking the power of memory. So, what of Tamina?, this central character. We meet her in only two stories, but they are quite clear, crisp, and direct ones. Tamina is that lovely thing, a centre of silence in an otherwise busy novel. How we see her first is as a silent barmaid in a café somewhere abroad, among people who try to chat up barmaids, or are busy writing novels or discussing their heightened orgasms of all things. This part of the novel is a simple one about letters and diaries left behind in Czechoslovakia, which she wants, and fails to get out of the country. We meet her again on an island where children indulge her with polymorphous sex play that feels like a long awaited reward, but it’s not what she wants, because she’s still thinking of her husband and of real love. The children go on to torture her, quite playfully, because she does not belong to their world, and when she tries to escape by swimming off the island they watch over her, drowning. This is obviously a nod to totalitarian and conform, but as a fable, what’s more interesting, in fact, is Kundera speaking in his own voice about his father, music and language, as he does in the intervals of this story.

Overall, I didn't think this hit the heights of Immortality, but it was still a thoroughly enticing and brilliantly written book. And what's great when it comes to Kundera's work, is that I have only just scratched the surface, so hopefully many more good times in the company of Kundera await me.
August 29, 2022
A lot of random ramblings with way too many irrelevant things mixed into a barely comprehensble smth. Way too much political stuff on the author's mind to write a something, anything, engaging, I guess.

DNF. Don't think I'll be back. Drat, I shouldn't have wasted my time reading it after all. Drat. I could do without the nasty imagery this left in my mind. Drat. I think this could be one of the worst reads of the year. Of several years, in fact.

I'm pretty sure some people might love it, actually. It's very, how to put it, visionary. The problem is, one has to be in a very particular mood to engage with this vision and all the paedophilia and orgies just weren't what I had on my mind right now. And, I don't think I want all the stuff that's mixed in there on my mind, ever. It read really unhealthy, like things someone who's sick and seeing things might be seeing. So, it's probably my emotional disengagement with the book that's the driving factor for my take on it.

I just couldn't bring myself to care about orgies and islands and drownings and threesomes and pissing and shitting and other stuff enough. Way too much is centered around porn-y, unhealthy fantasies.

And, is this for reals? Or for lulz?
Q: Suckling is a delight, giving birth a delight, menstruating a delight, that "mild, almost sweet flow of blood, that tepid saliva of the stomach,' that mysterious milk, that pain with the burning taste of happiness." ...
Only an imbecile could make fun of this manifesto of delight. (c) Do color me an imbecile, all right? Giving birth could be a delight in some ways but, uh, I tend to think dear old Milan needed an outing to some hospital and maybe witnessing some births for real to have his perspective adjusted a bit.

Ughhh... Was that a generous sprinkling of paedofilia in there? Or what exactly are we supposed to think of kids who are probably driven by commies to, uh, uhm, this:
When the toilets flushed, the squirrels would stand up and take off their long nightgowns, and the tigers would leave the sinks for the bedroom, passing the cats on their way to the newly vacated toilets, where they in turn would watch Tamina with her black pubis and large breasts as she and the rest of the squirrels stood at the sinks.
She felt no shame. She felt that her mature sexuality made her a queen among all those whose pubic regions were smooth. (c)
All prizes and penalties were given out in the bathroom, and Tamina's prize was that she be waited on hand and foot there. In fact, she would not be allowed to touch herself. Everything would be done for her by her devoted servants, the squirrels.
Here is how they served her. First, while she was on the toilet they wiped her carefully; next, they stood her up, flushed the toilet, took off her nightgown, and led her over to the sink; then, they all tried to wash her breasts and pubis and see what she looked like between her legs and feel what it was like to touch. Now and then she tried to push them away, but it wasn't easy. She couldn't be mean to a bunch of children who were really just following the rules of their own game and thought they were rewarding her with their services.
Finally they took her back to her bed, where again they found all kinds of nice little excuses to press up against her and stroke her all over. There were so many of them swarming around her that she could not tell whose hand or mouth belonged to whom. She felt their pressing and probing everywhere, but especially in those areas where she differed from them. She closed her eyes and felt her body rocking, slowly rocking, as in a cradle. She was experiencing a strange, gentle sort of climax.
She felt the pleasure of it tugging at the corners of her lips. She opened her eyes again and saw a child's face staring at her mouth and telling another child's face, "Look! Look!" Now there were two faces leaning over her, avidly following the progress of her twitching lips. They might as well have been examining the workings of an open watch or a fly whose wings had been torn off. (c) I could hurl right now.

A lot of not really making a lot of deep sense pseudo-intellectual ramblings:
After denigrating sexual desire in the male, which, dependent on the transitory nature of the erection, is fatally betrothed to violence, annihilation, and doom, the author extols its positive antipode—female joy, pleasure, delight—as expressed by the French word jouis-sance, which is soothing, ubiquitous, and uninterrupted. (c) Yeah, do beware of 'the transitory nature of the erection'.

Anyway, someone else might find all this stuff really great and enticing and all.
Profile Image for İntellecta.
198 reviews1,531 followers
March 8, 2020
Das Buch vom Lachen und Vergessen" by Milan Kundera is a novel consisting of Seven Short Stories. gradually does one come to the conclusion that all stories together make a big whole. A look that is worthwhile, of course. In grandiose, exceedingly intelligent stories Kundera describes with a lot of wit about the different meanings of laughter and oblivion, love and eroticism, politics and homeland.
The fifth short story is titled Litost:
Litost is a Czech term that describes another important topic in the book. However, there is no clear translation for this word. In: regret, grief, pity, self-reproach). The language Kundera’s I feel as wonderful.
I really enjoyed this book.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.5k followers
July 2, 2015
It was funny, but I can't remember why.

[This is actually true, sad to tell]
Profile Image for Sidharth Vardhan.
Author 23 books681 followers
September 5, 2017

“...because love is continual interrogation. I don't know of a better definition of love.”

This won’t be the Kundera book I would recommend to a reader new to him. Not that it is bad – it still has all the interesting psychology (he dislikes the word), philosophy (he dislikes that too) and sex (… Well, he is a man.); the trouble with this book is it is too much into Kunderism. The good thing about him is he never beats around the bush. It is as if he knows what he has show and only tells parts of the story that say it – thus there is only vague suggestions regarding what happened during the time between events focused on in consecutive chapters. I don’t mind it if anything I actually prefer it over novels filled with useless details just there to establish connections in events and characters. (And while we are talking about his art, there is, of course, his nosy presence as writer of novel – telling you stories from his real life as well as that modern omniscient* narrator thing who only sees his character doing things but has no idea about their motivations – and is thus always making guesses (thus also the asterisk on omniscient).

But this time there is not only any unity of action but no unity of plot, This book is nearer to a collection of short stories rather than a single novel, stories that often aren’t connected in any way other than the common themes of laughter and/or forgetting. And Kundera is aware of this and says it is intentional. This is where the interview, in the end, comes handy. He defines novel as

“A novel is a long piece of synthetic prose based on play with invented characters. These are the only limits. By the term synthetic I have in mind the novelist's desire to grasp his subject from all sides and in the fullest possible completeness. Ironic essay, novelistic narrative, autobiographical fragment, historic fact, flight of fantasy: The synthetic power of the novel is capable of combining everything into a unified whole like the voices of polyphonic music. The unity of a book need not stem from the plot, but can be provided by the theme. “

The two themes here are laughter and forgetting. Forgetting makes obvious sense as he had to deal with communism:

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”

The quote would make obvious sense to anyone who has read 1984 or know about historical revisionism. There are of course the aspects of the theme as felt by people too. How it light to be without the burden of past memories; how one wishes to retain happy memories of past and how difficult it is.

“Children, Never look Back!" and this meant that we must never allow the future to be weighed down by memory . for children have no past, and that is the whole secret of the magical innocence of their smiles.”

“We will never remember anything by sitting in one place waiting for the memories to come back to us of their own accord! Memories are scattered all over the world. We must travel if we want to find them and flush them from their hiding places!”

“The future is only an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wounding, to the point that we want to destroy or repaint it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past.”

As to laughter, it is of two kinds – the one of the devil and one of angels:

“Those who consider the Devil to be a partisan of Evil and angels to be warriors for Good accept the demagogy of the angels. Things are clearly more complicated. Angels are partisans not of Good, but of divine creation. The Devil, on the other hand, denies all rational meaning to God's world. ' World domination, as everyone knows, is divided between demons and angels. But the good of the world does not require the latter to gain precedence over the former (as I thought when I was young); all it needs is a certain equilibrium of power. If there is too much uncontested meaning on earth (the reign of the angels), man collapses under the burden; if the world loses all its meaning (the reign of the
demons), life is every bit as impossible.”

Now Russian revolution and communism are angels on their way to make the world; a paradise (a place of too much uncontested meaning) and so not a very nice thing – however this paradise is tempting to people, who much like angels, want to live in a fully meaningful world. That is why communists don’t like art – art is all about raising questions:

“The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything....The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties, the novel is dead. The totalitarian world, whether founded on Marx, Islam, or anything else, is a world of answers rather than questions. There, the novel has no place.”

“The history of music is mortal, but the idiocy of the guitar is eternal.”

So all artist are devil’s advocates. But there can be too much of that too.

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for anage of universal deafness and lack of understanding.

“It takes so little, so infinitely little, for a person to cross the border beyond which everything loses meaning: love, convictions, faith, history. Human life -- and herein lies its secret -- takes place in the immediate proximity of that border, even in direct contact with it; it is not miles away, but a fraction of an inch.”

The island of children is lot like communist paradise – full of children with no memories. The children there are realistic - true little angels (as per Kundera’s definition above) and not innocent version from a TVC.
Profile Image for Taghreed Jamal El Deen.
626 reviews539 followers
September 14, 2018
هل عرف التاريخ كاتبا أكثر جنونا منك يا كونديرا ؟!
إن سألتموني عن رأيي بأي كتاب لكونديرا سأقول أنه يعجبني ..
- ما الذي يعجبكِ فيه ؟
- لا أدري
- لخّصي لنا موضوعه
- لا أستطيع

صدقا لا أعرف كيف أصف كتبه ورواياته ولا ما أحبه فيها تحديدا ،
ما أعرفه فقط أنها تعجبني وتلمسني وتدفعني للتفكّر .. وترسم على وجهي ابتسامة كبيرة :)

من بين المجموعة قصة ( الليتوست ) كانت الأروع
Profile Image for Whitaker.
294 reviews497 followers
April 5, 2012
What is a novel? Or perhaps that question should be, what is a novel for you? Is it a story? Does it have to have a dramatic arc? That’s pretty much what most of us think of when we think of novels. The story could be wholly plot-driven like The Da Vinci Code. It could be character-driven (e.g., Sense and Sensibility). Or it could simply an account of someone’s day (Mrs Dalloway). It could be written as straight-forward narrative (e.g., Madam Bovary) or play with form and structure (e.g., Ulysses); be realistic (e.g., Middlemarch) or be fantastical (e.g., The Famished Road). At its base, however, there is a story.

On the other hand, we could, however, say that what these works do is to try to explore the human condition or aspects of the human condition through the medium of made-up characters. So, how do you explore the life of a person who believes quite literally in magic and monsters? You write The Famished Road where what the Cartesian-trained mind thinks of as reality is shunted aside. How do you explore the interior life of a person and not just what she does and what happens to her? You write Mrs Dalloway.

How do you explore what it’s like to live through the erasure of your country’s culture, to live in a void where what gives meaning and ballast to your soul is being forgotten, where the young eagerly embrace the weighty and weightless oblivion of meaningless slogans and drivel? You write The Unbearable Lightness of Being. You write The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

There are ostensibly seven short stories here: a man looks for his first lover to get her to return the love letters he wrote to her; a ménage-à-trois with mother in the house; a widow trying to recall her late husband and her life with him; the same widow living with a group of children; a man trying to sleep with another man’s wife; two school girls reading Ionesco’s Rhinoceroses; a man during the last few weeks before he leaves his homeland. And this omits the digressions into history, music, language, philosophy, and other such forays that intersperse and interrupt these stories.

But to describe the novel thus is to belittle and betray it. These are not seven separate stories but a single description of a singular situation. Kundera speaks of his works as novelistic counterpoint. You could, theoretically, listen to each part of Pachabel’s Canon alone, treat them as separate musical works. It would not, however, be Pachabel’s Canon. Likewise with the separate and distinct stories of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: individually they are not this novel. Collectively, they are something other than themselves.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
855 reviews2,129 followers
April 8, 2017

No Memories of Merriment: Milan Kundera in Heideggerian Mode

"A novel examines not reality but existence. And existence is not what has occurred, existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything that man can become, everything he's capable of. Novelists draw up the map of existence by discovering this or that human possibility. But again, to exist means: 'being-in-the-world'. Thus both the character and his world must be understood as possibilities."

"Love's absolute is actually a desire for absolute identity: the woman we love ought to swim as slowly as we do, she ought to have no past of her own to look back on happily. But when the illusion of absolute identity vanishes (the girl looks back happily on her past or swims faster), love becomes a permanent source of the great torment we call litost...Litost is a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery."

"We must never allow the future to collapse under the burden of memory."

"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

"The rise of the sciences propelled man into the tunnels of the specialized disciplines. The more he advanced in knowledge, the less clearly could he see either the world as a whole or his own self, and he plunged further into what Husserl’s pupil Heidegger called in a beautiful and almost magical phrase, 'the forgetting of being.'

"Once elevated to 'master and proprietor of nature',' man has now become a mere thing to the forces (of technology, of politics, of history) that bypass him, surpass him, possess him. To those forces, man’s concrete being, his 'world of life' (die Lebenswelt), has neither value nor interest: it is eclipsed, forgotten from the start.

"For me the father of the Modern Era is not only Descartes but also Cervantes. ... If it is true that philosophy and science have forgotten about man’s being, it emerges all the more plainly that with Cervantes a great European art took shape that is nothing other than the investigation of this forgotten being.

"Indeed, all the great existential themes Heidegger analyzes in 'Being and Time' — considering them to have been neglected by earlier European philosophy — had been unveiled, displayed, illuminated by four centuries of the European novel.

"It its own way, through its own logic, the novel discovered the various dimensions of existence one by one: with Cervantes and his contemporaries, it inquires into the nature of adventure; with Richardson, it begins to examine 'what happens inside', to unmask the secret life of the feelings; with Balzac, it discovers man’s rootedness in history; with Flaubert, it explores the terra previously incognita of the everyday; with Tolstoy, it focuses on the intrusion of the irrational into human behavior and decisions.

"It probes time: the elusive past with Proust, the elusive present with Joyce. With Thomas Mann, it examines the role of the myths from the remote past that control our present actions"


The Book of Power

This book comes across as a collection of short stories. However, there is enough thematic continuity to justify calling it a novel.

Either way, it's a tower from which the émigré Kundera was able to look east from Paris and assess his past life in Communist Prague.

Equally, lest it be assumed that it is totally pro-West, it also allowed its Czech characters to look west and see the world of capitalism in Paris.

At the time, there was little comfort to be derived from living in one political sphere versus the other.

Both spheres come in for attack from the author’s quasi-anarchist point of view:

“I have come to realise that the problem of power is the same everywhere, in your country and in ours, East and West. We must be careful not to replace one type of power with another; we must reject the very principle of power and reject it everywhere.”

The Book of Laughter

To some extent, the book distinguishes between public and private life.

In 1970’s Czechoslovakia, the Government, the Party, has strict control of public life.

People live in fear of being arrested, imprisoned and executed for ideological unsoundness.

All public behaviour is circumscribed. There is no longer any sincerity or authenticity. Nobody is frank. Nothing is genuine.

Nobody can be trusted. Nobody can be trusted with the truth. Nobody can be trusted with your truth.

You can understand the social and economic environment in which workers might say, “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.”

The ego retreats into solitude, into the life of the mind. If you’re game or stupid, you might write something down, in letters or notebooks. You might even write a poem or a novel. But sooner or later, it will be read by a stranger, and eventually you’ll be taken away in the middle of the night.

One outlet for the ego seems to be sex and eroticism. There is much promiscuity and infidelity in this book. It seems to be the one thing that keeps the lid from blowing off the saucepan.

Even then, lovers (at least those who are not overtly raping their partners) look into each other’s eyes, seeking guidance or reassurance about their performance. Nobody is game enough to ask or tell. They simply close down, withhold affection, they turn away, they avert their eyes, they keep their lips sealed.

The party doesn’t have a position on topless or nude bathing. Its members divide equally into those who are progressive or conservative. There’s no point in having a dispute over a relatively minor issue, so it’s permitted.

It’s hard to keep a lid on all social behaviour though. In the absence of the right to protest or form a legitimate opposition, people resort to laughter, not happy, delighted, joyous, ecstatic laughter (good laughter), but joking, irony, sarcasm, jeering, sneering, humiliation, ridicule (evil or bad laughter). Not something spontaneous, open, shared, infinitely pleasurable (good), but something covert, nervous, fearful, constrained (bad).

You can sense Boccaccio, Rabelais, Sterne, Swift coursing through the veins of this work, but Kundera nevertheless seems to have kept it relatively restrained. He was never totally free to run wild. You have to wonder what the book would have been like if it was less restrained.

Still, the novel is fluent, stylish, imaginative, even allegorical (although he disclaimed this word). It's deceptively easy to read, for all the seriousness of its subject matter.


Left: Vladimir Clementis and Klement Gottwald (with photographer Karel Hájek) on 21 February 1948; Right: Klement Gottwald alone (the others having been eradicated from history as from 1952)

The Book of Forgetting

The subject of forgetting is equally divided into public and private.

In the personal context, Tamina is unable to erase memories of her dead husband: she would “never forgive herself for forgetting.”

As a result, she isn’t able to have a relationship with somebody else. She works as a waitress in a Paris café, but she spends her life dreaming of ways to recover her love letters and notebooks (records of “the infinity of her love”) from Prague, so that she can counter her fading memory of her husband. As it is, if she has a one night stand, she can only see her husband when she opens her eyes.

In her case, the inability to forget prevents her embracing the present, let alone the future. She clings to a past that will one day dissipate before her very eyes.

The political perspective is quite the opposite. It’s about how to eradicate the past. The point of view is the Soviet Union trying to control Czechoslovakia, although there’s no reason why it would be different in the Soviet Union itself:

“They are trying to make an occupied country forget the bitterness of history and devote all its energy to the joys of everyday life...

“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”

People, friends, lovers and family are a link with the past. So are memories. So is history.

If you want to control the future, you must control the present. If you want to control the present, you must control the past. You control the past through controlling history (“145 historians have been forbidden to remember”). You must also destroy music, song, poetry (things that document and perpetuate memories, things that embody love and understanding). You must obliterate memories. You must mandate forgetting.

It’s not just Orwellian, it’s Kafkaesque. Kundera himself makes this explicit:

“Prague in [Kafka's] novels is a city without memory. It has even forgotten its name. Nobody there remembers anything, nobody recalls anything...no song is capable of uniting the city's present with its past by recalling the moment of its birth.

“Time in Kafka's novel is the time of a humanity that no longer knows anything nor remembers anything, that lives in nameless streets or streets with names different from the ones they had yesterday, because a name means continuity with the past and people without a past are people without a name.”

Changing a street name is likened to a lobotomy.

Paradoxically, you must turn adults into children. They have nothing to remember yet. However, they represent the future:

“The reason children are the future is not that they will one day be grownups. No, the reason is that mankind is moving more and more in the direction of infancy, and childhood is the image of the future.”

The totalitarian state imposes infantilism on the people.

Nevertheless, at a time when perhaps Lolita might have been the only role model, Kundera seems to anticipate the sexualisation of children that proliferates today:

“[The children] are behaving with the provocative flirtatiousness of the adult world, rolling their hips as if imitating intercourse. The lewdness of the motions superimposed on their children's bodies destroys the dichotomy between obscenity and innocence, purity and corruption. Sensuality loses all its meaning, innocence loses all its meaning, words fall apart...”

The Book of Music

Music has a special role in the novel, partly because the narrator's (and the author's) father was a musician.

He rails against "the idiocy of music", particularly modern guitar music.

In contrast, he studies and admires Beethoven's variations, which provide the structure for his son's narrative:

"...those sixteen measures [of music contain] the inner universe of their infinite possibilities...

"This entire book is a novel in the form of variations. The individual parts follow each other like individual stretches of a journey leading towards a theme, a thought, a single situation, the sense of which fades into the distance...it is a story about laughter and forgetting, about forgetting and Prague, about Prague and the angels."

As a result, the novel becomes a "tower where the wisdom of music reigns supreme."

The Book of Writing

Although it’s not reflected in the title, there’s much in the novel about the act of writing.

Tamina’s notebooks dictate and drive her life:

“She realised that what gave her written memories value, meaning, was that they were meant for her alone.”

Their very privacy sustained her life, they defined her self.

In contrast, Kundera is prescient (yet again) in describing the motivation for writing of the other characters. Writing for them perpetuates the self. It’s part of a grab for eternity, a defence against ephemerality:

“Everyone has trouble accepting the fact he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it's too late...

“By writing books, a man turns into a universe.”


Milan and Vera Kundera

The Book of Understanding

Yet, just as writing is concerned with the preservation and perpetuation of the self, it is fundamentally selfish:

“Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding.”

Writing has the potential to be social, but even this potential is exaggerated in this environment. We don't share or exchange. We just make statements. We don't seek understanding or wisdom, we just crave attention:

“All man's life among men is nothing more than a battle for the ears of others.

“ ...novels are the fruit of the human illusion that we can understand our fellow man. But what do we know about each other? Nothing...The only thing we can do is to give an account of our own selves. Anything else is an abuse of power. Anything else is a lie.”

The Book of Being

Kundera describes how the nature and scope of our vision of life, our Weltanschauung has diminished, almost to the point of solipsism:

“Ever since Joyce, we have been aware of the fact that the greatest adventure in our lives is the absence of adventure... Homer's Odyssey now takes place within man. Man has internalised it. The islands, the sea, the sirens seducing us, and Ithaca calling us home - they have all been reduced to voices within us.”

His three conditions for graphomania (a mania for writing books) capture today's blog culture perfectly:

“(1) an elevated level of general wellbeing which allows people to devote themselves to useless activities;

(2) a high degree of social atomization and, as a consequence, a general isolation of individuals; and

(3) the absence of dramatic social changes in the nation's internal life.”

As we become more atomised, as we turn away from live interaction with real people, we stay in our homes and type away at our computers.

All we need is wifi.

We cease to be public. We cease to be political. We cease to protest. We cease to propose. We cease to progress. We remain within the boundaries of our society. We never cross the border. Hence:

“If everybody holds off for a while, we'll be slaves before we know it.”

It's tempting to define this approach in terms of Heidegger's philosophy (and his analysis of the "forgetfulness of Being"). We no longer define Being and Time in terms of possibilities. We have closed down, we are holding off. We have turned the horizon of Being into a digital prison. And Kundera saw it coming as long ago as 1979.


Beethoven - Sonata N.32 Op.111 (Sviatoslav Richter)



"Now I know."

David Sylvian – "Laughter And Forgetting"


Lou Reed - "Small Town" [Live in Düsseldorf on 24 April, 2000]

Profile Image for Chris_P.
382 reviews254 followers
September 14, 2016
Such a unique writer, Kundera! What a way he has to shine the brightest light on the deepest corners of human psyche! What's really impressive, though, is the fact that he combines human every-day behavior with historical facts. The connection between those two is for the reader to make.

What some readers may find annoying, is the fact that Kundera is rather interventional when it comes to his characters. He doesn't hesitate not only to talk about himself, but also analyze his theories. Me, I don't have the slightest problem with that. I don't know to what extend I would agree with his political views, as he's baffled me some, but I find his writing highly addictive. His characters are faced with desires and fears, amidst all the big changes that took place in Czechoslovakia at the time, along with a sudden and violent turn toward sexual liberation (or suppression, for that matter).

These seven stories are all connected. Not only with the obvious way of having the same characters (a couple of them), but most importantly, by a greater sense of oneness. Thus, one can safely assume that this is not a collection of short stories, but a novel. There may be some big differences between some of them (for example, in the second story with the title "The Angels", Kundera looks Dostoevsky straight in the eye and exchanges a few words with him, without straying from the inner personal struggle of his character Tamina and the main point of the book), but in the end, and through some enlightening clarifications on the power of laughter and the danger of forgetting (a danger which has come to be a reality nowadays in so many ways, I might add), this book is exactly that: a Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

5 stars. My second favorite Kundera, closely behind The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,668 followers
January 13, 2020
Brilliant in parts, but also messy and uneven. It is a twisting novel of lovers, sex, names, poets, politics, borders, history, memory, nations and being. It slides from one original idea into another like remote lovers in a well lubricated orgy of ideas. I don't know if it loses me because I loved The Unbearable Lightness of Being so much more, or if Kundera just failed to grab me by the intellectual shorthairs. I'm almost positive I would probably rate it higher if I had the chance to tease out the flesh a bit more. It reads (not in specifics, just in style and tone) like someone took several Wim Wenders films and randomly spliced pieces from his oevre; sometimes backwards, sometimes upsidedown, frequently disorienting.
Profile Image for Ahmed Ibrahim.
1,196 reviews1,581 followers
March 2, 2019
“نضال الإنسان ضد السلطة هو نضال الذاكرة ضد النسيان"

كونديرا يقع خارج دائرة المألوف بالنسبة للأدب، أدبه يحمل المعنى الحقيقي للأدب لكن القالب مختلف تماما عن القوالب الاعتيادية، وفي نظري أن تحقيق المعنى أهم من التسمية الظاهرية. كونديرا واحد من أهم الأدباء في تاريخ الأدب، تعقُّد الشخصية في أعماله تُدرس.
في هذه الرواية تدور القصص حول محور واحد، والحقيقة أن القارئ لكونديرا يدرك أن المحاور الرئيسية في أعماله كلها واحدة.
منذ فترة طويلة أكتب عن كونديرا، الكتابة ع��ه أمر مرهق لكنه ممتع.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
801 reviews2,521 followers
January 25, 2016
One of the characters in this book says that he intends to write a book about politics and love. And, that is exactly what this is; a book about politics and love. The style of writing is quite different from most other novels; there is not much dialog, mostly narration. And, at least once the author speaks directly to the reader about the book. He describes how Beethoven first popularized the musical form "theme and variations", and that this book is based on the same form. It is built on seven parts, and each part is a variation, although the similarities are deeply cloaked.

This is a marvelous book set in Prague and Europe in the late 1960's and early 1970's. The politics in the book concern life in Prague under Communist rule, dominated by the Soviet Union. So many activities, especially writing, can be construed as anti-regime. Even the kind of acquaintances and friends one has can be interpreted as an affront against the government. And, that is a theme of several of the parts of the book. Another theme is love, and sexual dalliances.

The author states that this book is about a woman named Tamina, though she does not show up in the story until quite a ways into it. In one of the parts, Tamina is rowed by a child to an island that is inhabited only by other children. I am not going to spoil the story here, but while the story is not supernatural in any way, it takes on a fantastical flavor, full of mysteries and strange emotions.

The entire book takes a very philosophical tone. It is obvious that Kundera has thought a lot about life, about the meaning of life, and lets the reader in on his secrets.
Profile Image for Ivana Books Are Magic.
523 reviews184 followers
March 8, 2020
The book of Laughter and Forgetting is a book that has absolutely enchanted me. I remember reading it on a beach and thinking how it was somehow appropriate to read it there. Many subjects in this book are timeless. The vastness of the sea seems a good metaphor for this book. I can still remember how it felt, reading this wonderful novel on a hot summer day that seemed to last forever. I still remember the lessons it had to teach, a strange mix of sadness and happiness it stirred in me. It made me think of a great number of works, from 1984 to If on One Winter Night a Traveller. How I would describe The Book of Laughter and Forgetting? It's such an unique novel. It speaks of so many things, from communism and regimes to love and art. For me personally, it is a perfect book.

...“The first step in liquidating a people,' said Hubl, 'is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”
― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

I loved the female protagonist of this novel and her dreamy search for memory. She is in many ways, such a strong woman. Her life has never been easy but she keeps on fighting. I find it very easy to relate to her. When her story turned into an odd dream of sorts, I found it somehow appropriate as well, even if it was quite disturbing at times.
...“Tamina serves coffee and calvados to the customers (there aren't all that many, the room being always half empty) and then goes back behind the bar. Almost always there is someone sitting on a barstool, trying to talk to her. Everyone likes Tamina. Because she knows how to listen to people.

But is she really listening? Or is she merely looking at them so attentively, so silently? I don't know, and it's not very important. What matters is that she doesn't interrupt anyone. You know what happens when two people talk. One of them speaks and the other breaks in: "It's absolutely the same with me, I..." and starts talking about himself until the first one manages to slip back in with his own "It's absolutely the same with me, I..."

The phrase "It's absolutely the same with me, I..." seems to be an approving echo, a way of continuing the other's thought, but that is an illusion: in reality it is a brute revolt against a brutal violence, an effort to free our own ear from bondage and to occupy the enemy's ear by force. Because all of man's life among his kind is nothing other than a battle to seize the ear of others. The whole secret of Tamina's popularity is that she has no desire to talk about herself. She submits to the forces occupying her ear, never saying: "It's absolutely the same with me, I...”

― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

This novel isn't exactly well balanced. Sometimes it jumps from subject to subject. At one instant this book is quite realistic and speaks of life under the communist regime and in another it becomes fantastical and unreal. It's an unusual book, but in a good way. I can't think of anything in it that could make it better and nothing that could change because she completely delighted me. It is not only because I can sympathize with most of the things in the book and because so many sentences seems so true. It is also because I was delighted by all the form and content, the poetic and everyday life, the honesty and insincerity, the humanity and inhumanity. I felt like this book is somewhere between heaven and earth, chaos and peace, in some special place where sincerity of creation and talent takes place. There are books that you know you will love. You know that feeling when you read the first page and you know this book will touch your soul? For me this was one of those books. How would I answer the question: "What's in this book?". Perhaps it would be easiest to answer with a question "What's missing?". Still if I had to summarize an answer to this question, I would say that in this book you can find:
- poetry,
-social satire,
- study of regimes,
- history,
- allegories,
-realistic storytelling,
- postmodern passages,
- questioning of human relations,
- love in all forms,
- humor in abundance (of all kinds),
- biographies and autobiographies,
- literary criticism,
- honesty,
- and of course laughter and forgetting!

...“The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything....The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead. The totalitarian world, whether founded on Marx, Islam, or anything else, is a world of answers rather than questions. There, the novel has no place.”
― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Knjiga smijeha i zaborava osvojila me je na prvu. Savršena knjiga, tako bi ju mogla opisati. Neobična je, ali na dobar način. Ne mogu zamisliti ništa u njoj što bi je moglo učiniti boljom i ništa što bi se moglo promijeniti jer me posve oduševila. Nije samo zato što mogu suosjećati sa većinom stvari u knjizi i što mi se tako puno rečenica čini istinitim, već me oduševilo sve forma i sadržaj, poetičnost i svakodnevnost, iskrenost i neiskrenost, ljudskost i neljudskost dijela koje je negdje između neba i zemlje, kaosa i mira, u nekom posebnom mjestu iskrenost stvaranja i talenta. Ima knjiga kojih kad pročitaš prvu stranicu znaš kako će ti se svidjeti i za mene ovo je bila jedna od tih knjiga. Kundera je rekla bih divan pisac iako mi je ovo prva njegova knjiga. Na pitanje "Čega ima u ovoj knjizi?" odgovoriti sa pitanjem "Čega nema?" možda je najlakše.

No nekako ukratko možda bi se moglo reći kako ova knjiga u sebi ima:
-društvene satire,
- povijesti,
- alegorije,
-realističkog pripovijedanja,
- postmoderne,
- propitivanja ljudskih odnosa,
- ljubavi u svim formama,
- humora u izobilju, u svim vrstama
- biografije, autobiografije,
- književne kritike,
- iskrenosti
- i naravno smijeha i zaborava!
Profile Image for Nahed.E.
595 reviews1,488 followers
January 15, 2016

القراءة الثانية لكونديرا والتي لم تكتمل أيضاً مثل سابقتها من كثرة ما قفزت فوق الفقرات والصفحات !
هذا الكتاب كان محاولتي الثانية للقراءة له ،
ولا أعتقد أنني سأكرر الأمر مرة ثالثة !!

هناك شئ ما خطأ .. شئ يضايقك حين تجد فكرة فلسفية ممتازة بحق ترتدي ثوباً أدبياً سيئاً
شئ ما يجعلك تحزن ، حين تجد فكرة رائعة كان من الممكن التعبير عنها في صورة أدبية رائعة وكلمات ممتازة وقصة شائقة ، وبدلاً من ذلك ، تجد ثوباً أدبياً رديئاً يدور حول هاجس واحد فقط يمتلك الكتاب من بدايته لنهايته !!
فالكتاب ليس رواية واحدة ..
بل مجموعة قصصية تدور حول فكرتين فلسفيتين : الضحك والنسيان
ولكن .. طبيعة الروايات السيئة أضاعت فكرة الكتاب !

للأسف هناك الكثير من الاقتباسات الجيدة التي تقرأها مستقلة عن القصص نفسها

مازال كونديرا بالنسبة لي أديب الفكرة الجيدة والاقتباس الجيد
ولكنه ليس أديب الرواية الجيدة
Profile Image for Mohamed Shady.
626 reviews6,573 followers
October 7, 2014
"أنوى تأليف كتاب يا تامينا ، كتاب حول الحب ، نعم ، حولى وحولك ، حولنا معا ، حول يومياتنا الأكثر حميمية ، يوميات جسدينا. أجل ، أريد أن أحطم فيه كل التابوهات ، وأبوح بكل ش�� ، أقول كل شئ عنى ، عن وجودى وعن كل ما أفكر فيه ، وسيكون فى الآن نفسه كتابًا سياسيًا ، كتابًا سياسيًا عن الحب ، وكتاب حبّ عن السياسة .. "
"كتاب حب حول السياسة ، أجل ، لأن العالم ينبغى أن يُخلق على مقاس الانسان ، على مقاسنا ، على مقاس جسدينا ، نعم ، لكى نستطيع يومًا أن نُقبّل بطريقة مختلفة ، وأن نحب بطريقة مختلفة .. "

يمكننا أن نصف ما يكتبه كونديرا بكلمة واحدة فنقول "التنوع" ، نعم ، إنه الوصف المناسب ، ف كونديرا لا يكتفى بموضوعٍ واحد ، أو مجالٍ واحد ، وإنما ينتقل بين المواضيع المختلفة بخفة وتلقائية ويسحبك معه فى دواماته اللطيفة لتغوص فى عالمه الساحر ..
يتحدث عن العلاقات الانسانية بين البشر ويوضّح تأثير تلك العلاقات على حياة المجتمع ككل ، ثم يتوقف ليحكى لك موقفًا من حياته السياسية ، الذى يشعرك بالشتات أحيانًا ، ولكنه فى النهاية يمسك الخيوط كلها فى يده ليُعلِمُكَ أنها متصلة ببضعها البعض ..

طبّق كونديرا ما يقول فى الاقتباس الأول بحذافيره ، فكتب كتابًا سياسيًا عن الحب ، أو كتاب حبّ عن السياسة. كتب فيه أجزاء من يومياته الخاصة ، وقطع من سيرته الذاتيه وعلاقته بالحزب الشيوعى ، واجتياح الروس لبوهيميا ، وهاجم فيه رؤساء التشيك التابعين للاتحاد السوفيتى ، وهو ما أدى فى النهاية إلى اسقاط جنسيته التشيكية وطرده إلى فرنسا حيث حصل على الجنسية الفرنسية وبدأ بالكتابة باللغة الفرنسية أيضًا ..

يوزّع كونديرا نفسه على شخصياته ، فتجد أن كل شخصية قد حصلت على جزء منه ; السياسى المنافق والمحامى البارع ونادلة البار والمرأة الريفية والشاعر العظيم وعاهرات المدينة وغيرها .. تستطيع أن تشم رائحته فى كل هذا ، يتقمّص الشخصية كفنان بارع ، ويجعلك تتعاطف معها أو تكرهها إذا أراد ، كما أن لديه قدرة فائقة على تحليل الشخصيات ، ومعرفة أبعاد كل شخصية ، ومزج كل هذا فى نسيج محكم ، بأسلوب شائق للغاية يجبرك على القراءة حتى الثمالة ..

على الغلاف الخارجى يصنّف الناشر " كتاب الضحك والنسيان " كرواية ، ولكنى ، وبعد قراءته ، أراه أقرب لمجموعة قصصية ، فهو يتكون من ستة فصول تتحدث فى مواضيع وحكاياتٍ مختلفة ، قد تكون متصلة ، نعم ، ولكنه اتصال واهٍ لا يؤهلها لاعتبارها رواية ..
أكثر ما أعجبنى هو الفصل الخامس ، ويوضح فيه الكاتب مصطلح "الليتوست" ، ويحكى قصة شعراء اجتمعوا في بيت أحدهم يتناقشون فى أمور الحياة والنساء والشعـر وغيرها ..

الكتاب هو تجربتى الثانية مع كونديرا بعد " كائن لا تحتمل خفته " ، وأعتقد أنها لن تكون الأخيرة..
يبدو أننى لن أكتفى من هذا الرجل أبدًا ..
3 reviews1 follower
February 5, 2009
Weird, weird, weird. Was hoping for quality since it was an international best seller, and who knows, maybe it was just too high-brow for me, but I didn't enjoy it. It concentrates on how communism makes people lose their humanity and become just desire-less, shallow, and brain dead. There are a lot of really uncomfortable sex scenes involving children and others in which the act is just humorous and emotion-less, not even erotic just mechanical but not for the usual reasons of boredom with a partner but just boredom with the act itself. I don't know. He was shooting for a message of people becoming disattached from living because of the politics, but it was just weird. Wouldn't recommend it.
Profile Image for L.S. Popovich.
Author 2 books314 followers
January 18, 2020
I didn't laugh. And it was quickly forgotten.

Kundera knew how to write. (I speak in the past tense because he is now 90 years old and I wonder how much writing he's doing nowadays.) But he chose to write about things I find it very hard to care about. In this, more than in Unbearable Lightness, he glorifies sex frequently as a rite of passage, and goes on at great length about its incredible significance. The characters are all so literary. So avant-garde, and in this day and age, cliched. There is a lot of political drama too. But hasn't everything in the book been done before, and done by Kundera specifically? Yes, the characters were witty, but that was about the extent of their depth in my opinion.

I understand if you enjoy his polished sentences and pithy remarks. There's satire and humor and possibly some heart. I won't argue with you about his skill. But I'm usually looking for a different brand of literature.
Profile Image for مصطفى.
291 reviews216 followers
November 13, 2019
لم أجد كاتباً من قبل يعامل شخصياته كما يعاملهم كونديرا، فهو يعاملهم وكأنهم أبناءه أو إخوته، لقد شعرت بحالة آلفة وحب كبيرين لم أشعر بهما من قبل بين كونديرا وشخصياته، وقد أدهشني كيف يستطيع أن يتوحد معهم بهذا الشكل، ولكنه ليس بغريب، فإن كل تلك الشخصيات فيها إنعكاس من حياته هو الشخصية، فلا عجب أن يلتقط من مشاكلهم وذكرياتهم خيوط ليبدأ بالحديث عن نفسه، ولا عجب أن تلتحم حياته ومصيره بحيواتهم ومصائرهم هكذا.. ولا عجب أنه يحكي عنهم بعين المراقب والراوي، وليس بتقرير الصحفي.. كونديرا عالم مدهش أنا سعيد لأنني طرقت بابه أخيراً.
حكاء ماهر، ويمتلك خيوط رهيبة يبدأ بيها قصته، وخطوط وهمية ينتفل بها من حدث للآخر، أنا سعيد، حق��قة أنا سعيد.

Profile Image for Dina Nabil.
205 reviews1,128 followers
February 1, 2016

هي روايتي الاخيرة مع العزيز ميلان كونديرا بعد انتهاء قراءتي في رواياته الاخرى جميعها ، و لن توجد نهاية اجمل من تلك التي اهداها لي العزيز كونديرا في "كتاب الضحك و النسيان"

الكتاب الاكثر سيريالة علي الاطلاق من اعمال كونديرا ففيه يتنقل بحرية المحنك و الكاتب الذى لا يهتم ابدا باراء الاخريين بين القصة القصيرة و الرواية و المذكرات الشخصية و فن المقال ... تركيبة لن تنجح ابدا الا ببصمة كونديرا و حتي بها تبدو الفوضي -التي لم يهتم بتنظيمها- هي السائدة تبلبل ذهن القارئ
لكن الرحلة تلك بكل صعوبتها و تقلباتها تحمل كعادة كونديرا معنا روح الانسان الممزقة بين الخفة و الثقل ، الجدية و الضحك ، عبء التاريخ و فوضي ما بعد الانسانية ، و "التفاهة" الكثير و الكثير من التفاهة المقدسة التي علمنا كونديرا ان نقدرها كتاب بعد كتاب و رواية تلو الاخرى

عن ماذا تتحدث رواية "كتاب الضحك و النسيان" ؟ ... لن تجد اجابة قط ، فهي تارة مجموعه قصصية كلاسيكية لمجموعة افراد و قصص لا يجمعهم الا نفس المؤلف فنستمع الي قصة شاعر يعشق زوجة جزار ريفية و يتشاجر مناقشا جوته و ڤولتير ، و تارة نرى انفسنا في صالون اسرة تتكون من زوج و زوجة و صديقة مشتركة تمارس الجنس مع كلاهما و في الظل تظهر ام الزوج التي تكافح النسيان و تداخل الذكريات ، ثم نتحول الي قصة ارملة وحيدة تكافح نسيان الماضي ، و بدون مقدمات نقفز لحياة كونديرا ذاته و الفترة التي قضاها هاربا متخفيا يكسب رزقه من كتابة مقالات "حظك اليوم" تحت اسم مستعار ، ثم نضحك مع فتاتين يقرؤن مسرحية يونسكو ، ثم نعود بلا تهيئة الي الارملة السابق ذكرها لتعيش علي طريقة رواية "ملك الذباب"
و من ثم نتسأل هل تلك مجموعة قصصية؟ الاجابة هي بالتاكيد لا ... فقراء كونديرا المحبين يعلمونه في فن القصص القصيرة بمجموعة "غراميات مرحة' الممتعة و الدسمة و كلاسيكية الشكل

هل يمكن اعتبارها رواية؟ هنا تظهر تلك ال" لا" مرة اخرى ... فغياب حدث و شخصيات موحدة يستبعد ذلك
و هنا يمكن اعتمادها رواية بناء علي قاعدة واحدة فقط ذكرها العزيز كونديرا في كتاب "فن الرواية" هي ان الرواية هي عمل ادبي يلقي الضوء علي قطعة من الانسان لم ظلت سابقا في الظلام... و بناء علي ذلك فكونديرا كعادته معنا قدم لنا "رواية" عظيمة بما يكفي
"سرعان ما حجب اغتيال " أليندى" ذكرى اجتياح الروس لبوهيميا ، و أنست مجزرة بنجلادش اغتيال "أليندى" ، و غطت حرب سيناء بضجيجها علي تأوهات بنجلادش، و غطت مجازر الكومبودج علي حرب سيناء ، و هكذا دواليك الي ان ينسي كل شئ تماما"
كالعادة يأخدنا كونديرا من ايدينا لنسخر من "الضحك الجاد" الذى تتهافت عليه الاحزاب و الكنائس و الدول عندما نضحك لسبب او لاننا سعداء فيبتسم الطفل السمين الابيض عندما يظهر علي اعلان الحفاضات المنعشة و نبتسم الفتاة الشقراء علي بوستر الدعوة للانتخابات لكن الضحك المنطلق انثوى المزاج مهدد للانظمة اكثر من اي مظاهرات قمعت او ستقمع بالتأكيد

هل حياة البشر تتلخص في محاولتنا البائسة في انتزاع الميكروفون؟ في احتلال اذن الغزيم قسرا؟ في انتظار ممض محموم لنسمع الاخريين الي ان نحظى بشرف جملة " هذا شبيه بما وقع لي تماما ، فأنا...." نظهر نحن تحت الضوء قليلا الي ان يعاد احتلال اذاننا بجملة شبيه؟ ... هل حياتنا الاجتماعية علي الاقل هي مجرد مجهود لتحرير اذاننا من العبودية؟
"كان (ميريك) يعيد كتابة التاريخ تماما كما يفعل الحزب الشيوعي، و كما تفعل كل الاحزاب السياسية ، و كما تفعل كل الشعوب، و اجمالا كما يفعل الانسان. جميعهم يعلنون الرغبة في صنع غد افضل، لكن الامر غير صحيح، لان المستقبل ليس سوى فراغ مهمل لا يهم احد، مقابل الماضي المفعم بالحياة، و وجهه مزعج و بغيض الي حد اننا نرغب في تدميره او اعادة تلوينه.
لذا لا يطمح الناس الي التحكم في المستقبل الا بقصد اكتساب القدرة علي تغيير الماضي. فهم يتصارعون من اجل الوصول الي المختبرات التي تجرى فيها الروتوشات علي الصور ، و من ثمة تعاد كتابة السير و التواريخ"
هل العزلة هي من تولد هوس الكتابة؟ ام ان هوس الكتابة و احاطة انفسنا بجدرات مرايات لا تظهر فيه الا ذواتنا هو من خلق العزلة؟ ... و عندما يكتب الجميع من سيقرأ؟ و متي سنصل الي حالة الصمم القادمة لا محالة حين لن نسمع الا انفسنا ؟
ربما لن نعيش الى هذا اليوم لكننا لن نقلق حتي ان جاء مدام فيه صوت عميق كصوت كونديرا يجبرنا ان ننزل حائط المرايات لنسمع الي كلماته تخترق انفسنا فتجعلنا نرى انفسنا افضل مئة مرة من حائط المرايا
الي اللقاء ايها العزيز كونديرا ... كعادتنا معا

دينا نبيل
يناير ٢٠١٦
Profile Image for Brendan Monroe.
569 reviews149 followers
July 17, 2019
This book just reiterates why Milan Kundera is one of my favorite writers. He writes in a way so few writers can — only Italo Calvino, Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez come to mind — and reading his words makes you forget whether you're reading a book or dreaming, so fantastical is the quality of his work.

Other than being an absolute joy to read, 'The Book of Laughter and Forgetting' deals with such heavy topics as totalitarianism, individuality, and, as always when reading Kundera, sex. Reading this book after having recently completed W.G. Sebald's "Austerlitz" was fitting as both books tackle themes of isolation and the futility of attempting to hold onto memories of the dead.

This book, like other Kundera works such as "Immortality", is compiled of separate parts, containing different characters and plot lines. Some of these are good, others great. Choosing a favorite is particularly difficult but they all combine to work particularly well here, connected as they are by titular themes of laughter and forgetting.

Humor, in general, seems to play a large part in not just "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" but in many Kundera works and my edition includes an interview with Kundera, conducted by Philip Roth, on the importance Kundera places on humor in an oftentimes somber world.

Whether it's an island occupied solely by strange and morbid children, a "laugh-off" between the devil and an angel, or a communist so thoroughly erased from history that only his hat remains, "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" is an unforgettably joyful ride!
Profile Image for Perry.
631 reviews502 followers
May 22, 2021
Too Much Authorial Touching

3.5 stars. I'm aware this is a philosophical novel of ideas that significantly and laudably criticized the Czech communist regime then in power and resulted in that government's revoking Kundera's citizenship.

Nonetheless, I cannot in good conscience give a novel 4 or 5 stars on that basis when I dislike the type of author interactivity in a work of fiction that pervades this "novel." That is to say, I have a hard time reading as a story, i.e., enjoying or being vivified by a fictional narrative in which the author repeatedly reminds me that he is making it all up, such as saying why he picked out this name or that and why he decided the character would take off her clothes in a public place or make whoopee with the protagonist or go to an island of misfit 12 year old boys, be made to disrobe then be groped and fondled repeatedly and privately as a kind of gross anti-goddess.
Profile Image for Inderjit Sanghera.
450 reviews85 followers
April 14, 2013
Although I enjoyed 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' I think 'The Book of Laughter and Forgetting' is a forgettable novel, bloated with page upon page of elephantine platitudes, banal sex scenes and forgettable characters devoid of any personality beyond the misanthropy which surrounds them; Kundera's characters function as mannequins for him to wrap his disconsolate opinions on, 'The Book of Laughter and Forgetting' attempt so be a kind of daring expostulation of the human condition but turns out as sour as the breath of Hugo, the hack political journalist from 'Lost Letters'. The main theme, as far as I can see, is that of memory; the inaccuracy of memory, and in particular the way in which the Czech and the Soviet state was able to eliminate the existence of so many of its citizens. The short stories are full of people constantly trying to get one of another, selfish and lustful or cowardly, perhaps this is Kundera's reflection of humanity or perhaps this is merely an intentional device so that the novel reflects the despotic regime it is attempting to depict. Perhaps I am being too harsh on Kundera, after all 'Lost Letters' is a touching story about a woman looking to regain the memories of her dead husband via the letters and diary she left in Prague, though again the characters by and large seem carboard cut out and in many ways Kundera resembles the third rate hack writer Baka of the same story. If it was Kundera's aim to depict the irretrievable loss of the Czech people following the two uprisings and year of despotism he could have done far better, as it stands it is hard to care about any of the characters and so the novelist ends up resembling the two ostentatious American students whose pretentious attempt to analyse Ionesco's 'The Rhinoceros' ends up with them receiving a well deserved keep up the backside from a fellow student.
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