Monday, 15 October 2012

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting ~ Milan Kundera

As an ardent Kundera admirer, I was slightly disappointed by this book. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting  comprises seven different narratives bound by the themes of forgetting and laughter. Kundera, as is wont, brilliantly pirouettes the reader through historical incidences, merging facts with philosophy and magic realism, and weaving fictional narratives on the background of real happenings. Yet, it lacks the sheer ingenuity of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, or Identity, or even of Ignorance. 

The problem lies in the fact that some of the narratives are just not powerful and Kundera-esque enough. This is especially true with the first narrative entitled 'Lost Letters' and the first magic realist story 'The Angels'. Their loose story lines hover in the air, and I felt a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction when I discovered that they had ended. On the contrary, the namesake of the first narrative was endearing and steeped in Kundera's trademark realm of thought. Tamina's yearning for her late husband's letters left in Prague (while she is an expatriate in France) in order to reconstruct the ever-fading memory of her husband, and her futile attempts to procure them, touches the innermost chords of the heart. When Tamina's narrative is resumed two stories later, Kundera begins by paying an astounding tribute to the variations in Beethoven's sonatas through the concept of the infinitude. However, if you thought that this promising beginning would lead to its altissimo in the forthcoming pages, you couldn't be more mistaken. 'The Angels' (part six) takes a downward turn, and Tamina's story seems exasperating. Nevertheless, I did have 'Mama' and the quintessentially-Czech 'Litost' as testimony to the brilliance of this writer. In the latter, he weaves an entire narrative around this untranslatable Czech idea, revolving around characters whom he names Petrarch, Voltaire, Goethe, Boccaccio, Lermontov and so on.

I however, do not regret having read a Kundera novel which I didn't completely like. Even in his most disappointing works, this maestro dwells on ideas and weaves such thoughts into epic happenings, that I am left dazed and bewegend for days.  

1 comment:

  1. His novel 'Life is Elsewhere' is both funny and tragic.