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The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: A Novel

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: A Novel

Written by Milan Kundera

Narrated by Richmond Hoxie


The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: A Novel

Written by Milan Kundera

Narrated by Richmond Hoxie

ratings:
4/5 (44 ratings)
Length:
8 hours
Publisher:
Released:
May 15, 2012
ISBN:
9780062215536
Format:
Audiobook

Description

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 1970s. Like all his work, it is valuable for far more than 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.

Publisher:
Released:
May 15, 2012
ISBN:
9780062215536
Format:
Audiobook


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What people think about The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

3.8
44 ratings / 28 Reviews
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  • (3/5)
    My rating is questionable. I am afraid that Kundera's characters and situations have shifted into an melange of protest; one which remains indistinct in my ability to appreciate and discern.
  • (3/5)
    Some beautiful, moving prose here, and some intense commentary pertaining to the cultural moment from which it emerged. In the end, though, I could not reconcile myself to the violence done to women in this novel--both the graphic sort and the "passive" sort, by which I mean the violence of squashing women into flat, objectified characters. I don't believe in giving a book a pass on this kind of thing just because it's old.
  • (4/5)
    Towards the end of Milan Kundera's THE BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING the narrator steps in to explain that the book has been constructed based on the model of musical variations, that is to say, repetition of larger themes with slight changes in the presentation. The themes of memory, death, the body and our relationship with it, occur in different shapes and forms throughout the book's seven sections, and the effect is entertaining although not exactly mind-blowing.Kundera isn't the first one to write a musical novel, nor the best at it (hello Monsieur Proust), but his style is compelling enough to entice literary enthusiasts and acolytes alike. What strikes me the most about the emphasis on variations is not how, from one person to the next, we share experiences that have the same meaning, but instead how singular events within an individual's life express the same meaning. So, yes, Tamina and maybe Jan will both express a theme, but perhaps more importantly, two distinct events in Jan's life will express the same theme. I don't know. I'm searching for the words here.I guess what I mean is that I always figured that there were other people out there who, even though they are completely different from me, share elements of my consciousness. But what THE BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING really taught me - not directly, but upon reflection - is how much I am myself, over and over again, but in new variations of the original. Maybe this is trite, obvious, but it could boost my self-awareness w/r/t the episodes that comprise my life.I'm rambling here. This isn't much of a review at all, so I'll try to boil it down to a few sentences here at the end. This is classic Milan Kundera. He writes about people, philosophy, psychology, history, and politics. And sex. Whoa whoa whoa the sex. It's uninhibited, that's for sure. It's not smut, although the are orgies, because he uses sex scenes to elucidate a deeper point, powerfully. If you've never read Kundera before, I'd recommend THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING over this, but you can't go wrong with either one. I can't imagine someone plowing through his entire oeuvre because I get the sense that the books are largely similar. Anyways, I'm rambling again. So just check it out. Or don't. Simple but beautiful literary fiction.
  • (3/5)
    I really enjoyed this book. I want to read it again from the beginning and take down all the really deep, insightful quotes. It's a sad book, and very, very sexually strange. Not what I would usually go for but the Book Club was reading it. I feel like I broadened my literary horizon by reading this.
  • (4/5)
    I remember that I laughed, but I've forgotten everything else.
  • (3/5)
    This is not a book that really lends itself to summarization, so I'm not going to even try (Yoda would be disappointed otherwise, and you don't want to disappoint Yoda). The best explanation of the book comes from within its own pages:

    "This entire book is a novel in the form of variations. The individual parts follow each other like individual stretches of a journey leading toward a theme, a thought, a single situation, the sense of which fades into the distance.
    It is a novel about Tamina, and whenever Tamina is absent, it is a novel for Tamina. She is its main character and main audience, and all the other stories are variations on her story and come together in her life as a mirror.
    It is a novel about laughter and forgetting, about forgetting and Prague, about Prague and angels." (165-6)

    This really does convey what The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is like. The book is composed of a series of vignettes, some obviously related to one another and others, so far as I can tell, coming out of left field. The composition of the novel is similar to the one other Kundera book I have read, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Both are told in brief snippets and focus as much (actually more) as philosophy as on characters.

    The difference lies in the fact that The Unbearable Lightness of Being had a clearly defined cast, setting and plot. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting does not have any such clear cut framework. In fact, his description that the parts follow one another towards a theme, only to have sense fade into the distance, perfectly captures my experience reading this novel. Any time I started getting really interested in a particular character, journey, philosophical idea, etc, or even just started to think I knew what he was getting at, the story would inevitably leap to something else entirely, leaving me more confused and irritated than before.

    He also does some weird postmodern, breaking the fourth wall stuff that really was not working for me. I have never been a huge fan of novelists including themselves as a character in their works (name and all), and this was one of those times where it did not work for me. Another thing that bothered me was the weird metaphor where death was like childhood, which also involved children raping an adult woman. That was weird and creepy, and didn't really quite work as a metaphor. And, sadly, it's not the only rape scene in the book.

    Sometimes, I could tell that Kundera was getting close to something interesting here, but I don't feel like he made it. There is definitely a reason why The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the more well-known work. I would recommend reading that one first.
  • (3/5)
    Another Kundera classic, not quite as subliminal as his others, but very enjoyable.
  • (4/5)
    Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being is one of my favorite novels. I feel more mixed about his earlier work, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. A blurb from the New York Times describes it as "part fairy tale, part literary criticism, part political tract, part musicology and part autobiography." I can certainly see all that. It's rather loosely structured into seven parts, each one of which could be seen as (mostly) independent short stories, even if one of the characters, Tamina, is repeated and Kundera insists she is central. Within the novel itself, Kundera himself sometimes intrudes as a first person narrator and breaks the fourth wall, at times telling stories purportedly about himself and how his life became entangled with his country and its convoluted history--once upon a time part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, then an independent republic, then under Nazi then Soviet domination, which still cast its shadow when this was written in 1977. In the midst and as part of the novel he explicitly explains the novel's meaning. "This book is a novel in the form of variations.... It is a novel about laughter and about forgetting, about forgetting and about Prague, about Prague and about the angels." In the first pages Kundera tells us that the "struggle of man against power is struggle of memory against forgetting" and he also tells us that that "bursting out in... ecstatic laughter is [to be] without memory." Despite such explicit explanations of the theme, I can't pretend to see how all the stories fit together, or how Tamina is central and others the mirror to her experience. This is a far less unified work than The Unbearable Lightness of Being, less realistic (parts of it are so surreal they can't possibly be taken as literally happening) and I found it far less moving. At the same time, unlike the case with many such novels, I didn't feel disappointed or as if it was a failure of the author. I do like it less than the other novel, but this one fascinated me in a way I could see reading it again, or wanting to read more about it and discuss it to understand how everything fits. It's an alienating novel in its way--I can't say I connected with any of the characters--particularly that of Kundera himself given a rather disturbing account of him and a woman I don't know whether to take as really having happened or not. Besides the surreal touches there's also quite a lot of sexual (though not particularly graphic) kink I'm not sure what to make of thematically. So I'm not sure always what Kundera is trying to say overall with the various stories--but often he says it beautifully, and parts are quite funny. There are so many lines and passages that are quote-worthy and worth a reread--such as his musings on twelve-tone music which is about so much more than just music. I couldn't help but contrast this to Joyce's Ulysses, which I read recently and to so much modernist literature in general. It seems literary critics only count as profound these days the near incoherent. They confuse difficulty in reading with complexity or profundity. Kundera's prose is fairly simple, and often lyrical, and in a line-by-line sense absolutely lucid and was always a joy to read--but that doesn't make his novel simple in meaning or in any way simplistic.
  • (3/5)
    Kundera wrote the Book of laughter and forgetting in 1978, ten years after the Prague spring, and more than ten years before the 1989 velvet revolution that ended the communist and totalitarian era in Czechoslovakia. At the time he lived in France as a refugee. This must have been a desperate time, without much hope for improvement. This sets the atmosphere for this book.The author is a character in this book, that is a strange mixture of fiction, non-fiction and autobiography. The writer thinks about his native country, his people and its sad destiny. A central theme in this book is forgetting. For a totalitarian state forgetting is essential: let the people forget their history, forget where they came from, who their ancestors were, who their friends once were. Live in the present, in the collective joy of the here and now. Dance, and loose yourself in the drums of loud music. Stop thinking, leave that to those who are in power.In the mean time the author writes stories, stories about forgetting, about refugees, about victims of the regime. About historians who were fired from universities, about the assassination of so-called traitors whose very existence was wiped out from history by even removing them from pictures. About the ones in the West who flirted with communism while people were killed by it.A second theme is the theme of laughter, the two kinds of laughter: the laughing of devils and the laughing of angels, and how both can turn into a nasty extreme.The book meanders around these themes that are explored both in made up stories and in real memories and experiences of the author. Variations on two themes, as a piece of music.It's impressive writing, yet at the same time it is a book that very much belongs to the 1970's. Even if one could argue that there are still totalitarian states today, this book is very much about Czechoslovakia. A country that has been freed from totalitarianism, yet do all its inhabitants actually make use of their freedom of thought now?
  • (4/5)
    Very much like his more famous Unbearable Lightness of Being, only more political, and much better. I don't think Kundera's brilliant, but he's got a real ability to make his reader think; I have certainly found myself more thoughtful reading these two novels than during almost any others I can remember. This one's harder to figure out than Lightness, but worth the effort I think.
  • (5/5)
    The Book of Laughter and Forgetting contains stories with unparalleled emotional depth and nuance. Kundera succinctly and elegantly describes the most delicate and complicated feelings, ones that have no name, that you often and easily forget even exist, shining a light on the dark and hidden depths of the human soul like few others. Laughter and Forgetting only gets better with each successive story. One of my favorite books.
  • (3/5)
    I really love his beautiful writing style. I do. I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed with this book, though. I thought it was good, but nothing special.
  • (5/5)
    A joy to read Kundera touches the human spirit like nobody else .
  • (4/5)
    This is not my favorite of Kundera's works but it hits on many of the same themes as his others. Eroticism coupled with a repressive society weave themselves together in most of these stories. It is not necessarily the subject matter that appeals to me with Kundera but rather the quite extraordinary nature of his insights into life and the sheer beauty of his writing. The lyrical nature is quite compelling and when this is coupled with his perceptiveness to small parts of our lives it brings this work to another level. I have never read a Kundera book that at the end did not leave me feeling enriched despite my disregard for the eroticism of his work.
  • (4/5)
    A brilliant depiction of intellectual life under communism. Philiosphically profound & very moving. The more allegorical sections were a slight disappointment though.
  • (2/5)
    I had previously read "An Unbearable Lightness of Being" and enjoyed it so I thought to try another Kundera. This one did not do it for me, but could have been better had I had anyone with whom to discuss its meaning.
  • (5/5)
    This book completely destroyed my previous ways of judging a book and it's author, it came across as so completely fascinating and so new, how he tells a story even as you feel you are sitting in the room with him, how he branches off and here you are reading a moment in the life, as if you are sitting in a room with a rambling uncle who, as it turns out, has had a wild and romantic life. This book cntinues to point me in Kundera's direction, devouring everything to find snippets of his same genius. 6 stars.
  • (5/5)
    It's hard to exactly pinpoint the reason why I fell in love with this book so dramatically. Perhaps it has to do with Kundera's art of examining the everyday, and making it poetic and philosophical, so that one can learn from it. Perhaps it's Kundera's way of putting the Soviet invasion into his homeland into perspective. Perhaps it's that every single word was full of a maudlin joy, a sad happiness, that I've just not found anywhere else.
  • (3/5)
    A collection of short stories. If you have not read Kundera, this is a good place, because you get a lot of his major themes neatly laid out. Well, as neatly as he can do it.
  • (3/5)
    Sex, philosophy, politics, and existential angst. This is classic Kundera. Well written, incisive and consummately readable. Didn't have me leaping around the room shouting 'Yes!' and nodding my head in appreciative agreement quite as much as some of his others though.
  • (5/5)
    I read this book then devoured the rest of Kundera's list. No one does it better than this man. While there is genius in all his books, this remains the top of the list for me, maybe because it was my first dip into this mind and that impression carries above all else.
  • (5/5)
    Breathtakingly beautiful
  • (5/5)
    Milan Kundera is amazing, he is one of if not the greatest living author and the last of his kind. He belongs in the ranks with Dostoevsky, Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus, Faulkner and Hemingway
  • (3/5)
    How laughing and remembering help us transcend the wretched. Also, about how forgetting only enables us to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. A bit of Czech history that should help us see that in order to break through we must first face "the dark side" in ourselves.
  • (3/5)
    A series of somewhat interconnected stories. I liked the idea; writings about forgetting but as with most of Kundera, just way too much sexual overtones. I appreciate Kundera's depth in his writings. The stories of the Lost Letters was pretty good. It is the opening story and brings the reader to communism in Prague. It is set in 1971. The second section Mama, I did not like. The third; The Angels again, I like this one, it is another one that features communism restraint on the writer. The Fourth, Lost letters is okay, the fifths is Litlost. A word for torment when one is aware of ones inadequacy. The sixth one is The Angels and is quite disturbing in its sexual content but reads like a dream or nightmare. And the last is a book called The Border. I listened to the audio and read it fast. It would be worth reading if the chance of discussion of the book would occur.
  • (3/5)
    A book with no sustained narrative, pocked with fictional pieces, essay, autobiographical scenes. But true to its title, a thematic amalgam of both laughter - of a sinister, devilish variety as well as a more innocent sort - and of forgetting. Forgetting, as in the erasure of history, of things no longer of political expediency, enforced by a totalitarian state. Literal whitewashing of people and events, photographs retouched to remove those who are "disappeared", speak to the erasure of memory in a real sense as well. Kundera wrote this at a time when he and other Czech dissidents/refugees were uncertain whether their country would survive, or be forever sucked into the Soviet black hole. Impressive but a bit too hodgepodge for me. The eroticism can be a bit much too. I enjoyed The Joke and The Unbearable Lightness of Being more.
  • (4/5)
    Included with this edition is “A Talk with the Author,” a summary of two conversations between Kundera and Philip Roth. Of particular interest to me is Kundera’s comment that reveals the meaning of the title: "The unity of a book need not stem from the plot, but can be provided by the theme. In my latest book, there are two such themes: laughter and forgetting." (p. 232)As experimental novels go, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is relatively successful and better than most.Kundera begins with forgetting—a commentary on the recent history of his native Czechoslovakia and his most powerful statement on forgetting:"The bloody massacre in Bangladesh quickly covered over the memory of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the assassination of Allende drowned out the groans of Bangladesh, the war in the Sinai Desert made people forget Allende, the Cambodian massacre made people forget Sinai, and so on and so forth until ultimately everyone lets everything be forgotten." (p. 3)Laughter, too, embodies a universal truth for Kundera:"Whereas the Devil’s laughter pointed up the meaninglessness of things, the angel’s shout rejoiced in how rationally organized, well conceived, beautiful, good, and sensible everything on earth was. . . . People nowadays do not even realize that one and the same external phenomenon embraces two completely contradictory internal attitudes. There are two kinds of laughter, and we lack the words to distinguish them." (p. 63)Acts of sex are so frequent in Kundera’s narration that sex becomes as much a character as the characters who perform it. In the way that some writers may habitually bring their characters together over drinks at the pub, Kundera brings his characters together in coitus. This may be characteristic of all his work. I’ve only read one other of his novels, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in which sex was most assuredly the main character. This realization is thought-provoking. Kundera’s sex character is neither titillating nor disgusting; s/he is just another player in the drama.Kundera skillfully executes the novel-within-the-novel, and I forget I have been gently pushed into a fictional world within a fictional world. Still in a sphere of writers and artists living under the thumb of a repressive regime, I now inhabit the fractured world of Tamina, a young widow who struggles to reconcile life without her husband. A New York Times review suitably describes Laughter and Forgetting as “part fairy tale.” Kundera’s Tamina moves easily in and out of reality taking me with her, never quite sure if I am in a world of imagination or a commune of lost souls.The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is of that genre of literature that invites the reader to come back again and again to see what more there is to be discovered. The nonfiction qualities of this book—Kundera’s description of the crushing disappointment of a revolution that only replaced one despot for another—are as intriguing to me as the fictional aspects.
  • (5/5)
    After falling in love with The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I glutted myself on Milan Kundera's other novels; as a consequence, plots and themes ran together in my mind, and only The Unbearable Lightness of Being remained distinct. (From this experience, I learned the lesson of putting at least a few books in between multiple books by the same author.) For this reason, re-reading The Book of Laughter and Forgetting was a curious experience: at each moment, I remembered nothing of what happened next in the book, but whatever page I was currently reading jogged my memory—rather apropos, perhaps.The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is a book of variations on a theme. There is no single narrative, but each of the seven parts expands on the theme of forgetting and its consequences. However, Kundera does indicate that Tamina—the heroine of Parts Four and Six—is the central character, and whenever Tamina is missing from the action, the book is for her.As the title suggests, the nature of forgetting forms the major theme of the book. Forgetting is always seen as creating a vacuum, but that vacuum is viewed in different ways. For example, both Mirek of Part One and Tamina of Part Four are concerned with recovering old letters. Mirek wants to obtain his old love letters to an embarrassing flame so that he can destroy them and thus completely erase her from his life’s narrative; Tamina, on the other hand, wants to recover the letters she shared with her dead husband in order to stop his disappearance from her memory.For Mirek, forgetting is positive, a means of creating the life he wants in reverse (whether or not this attitude is psychologically healthy is, of course, another question). For Tamina, forgetting deprives her life of any weight; she feels as though she’s adrift on a raft, always looking back into an indistinct past. In this way, the dichotomy of memory and forgetting seems to parallel the contrast between lightness and heaviness from The Unbearable Lightness of Being.Kundera also discusses the nature of forgetting in a political context; an incident is cited in which the communist leadership, in an Orwellian move, erased an official from a photograph and thus from history. Perhaps it is a result of my (blessed) removal from the realities of communism, but Kundera’s digressions into the nature of forgetting as underlying the true inhumanity of communism served merely to emphasize the narrative regarding personal memory rather than the other way around.As a last point, Tamina—the character the book is about and for—is, for me, utterly captivating and a character for whom I felt instant affinity; a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that she occupies so little of the novel and is developed through sparing biographical details. The book escapes feels fragmented by having Tamina at its heart.The Unbearable Lightness of Being cemented Kundera as one of my favorite authors; although The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is less of a coherent statement, and certainly less of a masterpiece, it is nonetheless an exceptional novel that further underlines Kundera’s immense talent.