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The Book of Laughter and Forgetting Paperback – April 7, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In one of the finer modern ironies of the life-imitates-art sort, the country that Kundera seemed to be writing about when he talked about Czechoslovakia is, thanks to the latest political redefinitions, no longer precisely there. This kind of disappearance and reappearance is, partly, what Kundera explores in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. In this polymorphous work -- now a novel, now autobiography, now a philosophical treatise -- Kundera discusses life, music, sex, philosophy, literature and politics in ways that are rarely politically correct, never classifiable but always original, entertaining and definitely brilliant. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"The Book of Laughter and Forgetting calls itself a novel, although it is part fairy tale, part literary criticism, part political tract, part musicology, and part autobiography. It can call itself whatever it wants to, because the whole is genius." -- John Leonard, New York Times

"An absolutely dazzling entertainment....Arousing on every levelpolitical, erotic, intellectual, and above all, humorous." -- Newsweek

"Deeply and impressively subversive, in more ways than one....Kundera's condemnation of modern life is broad, but his sympathy for those who create and suffer it is deep." -- Paul Gray, Time

"This book, as it bluntly calls itself, is brilliant and origin, written with the purity and wit that invite us directly in. " -- John Updike, New York Times Book Review


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Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition (April 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060932147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060932145
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

156 of 161 people found the following review helpful By oh_pete on April 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
THE BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING is a rare and precious jewel. In many ways this is an experimental novel, the seven different parts of the book are compared by the author to Beethoven's variations upon a musical theme. These different variations either describe, converge upon, or dance around the story of Tamina, a Czech exile who ran away from the communists with her husband only to see him die of disease soon afterward. As time passes she becomes obsessed with the mortal fear that she will forget him. She cannot go back to her homeland but she can try to get her husband's love letters back, to bring some of his laughter back into her life, to remind her that she is not alone.
Tamina's homeland meanwhile, still languishes and suffers under the boot of the Soviet Union. The intellectuals who were so excited about communism in the late 1940s can't believe how wrong it goes over the next twenty years and try to correct their mistake. But the Soviets will have none of their "stalking a lost deed" as Kundera calls it--just as the Czechs are succeeding in relaxing the strictures of totalitarianism, in storm the Soviet tanks in 1968, ending the "Prague Spring" and delaying freedom in Eastern Europe for another twenty-one years.
Published in 1978, three years after Kundera escaped the Iron Curtain and set down new roots in France, this book is also an important historical document. (I actually read it for the first time as an assignment for a 20th Century European history class in college in 1991--I'm still grateful to the professor.) It is important because it warns us of the insidious dangers of "forgetting.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Yaumo Gaucho on August 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Like Rushdie's Satanic Verses, this book is largely about angels and devils, or good and evil. The setting is (mostly) Prague around 1970, and the basic political themes -- Czech and Russian Communists and their adversaries -- are used as a foundation for the more ethereal, philosophical themes, such as the nature of humor, the nature of history, and the differences between the genders.
Kundera's frequent personal anecdotes told in the midst of the novel can be quite disconcerting -- and there's a parody of this book floating around the web that makes light of Kundera's self-indulgent practice of using his books as personal therapy sessions. But the anecdotes are still interesting, and since Prague around 1970 is such a big part of Kundera's own mental and cultural ethos, well, why not?
Anyone who is familiar with the dark, fatalistic jokes whispered in Communist Eastern Europe in the Olden Days will enjoy the steady stream of such humor in this novel. Kundera is a masterful joketeller. There is also a lot of bawdy sexual humor, fairly standard, but that is not nearly as interesting as the joke about the man vomiting in Prague's central square (I don't want to spoil the joke here, so you'll just have to read it in the book).
Kundera's attitudes toward women are for the most part repugnant -- but that's Kundera for ya. The contemporary American reader will wince when Kundera describes the beauty of rape, etc. This is just fair warning that some of the attitudes in this book may make you angry, as they made me angry; but we can't change Kundera. At least, unlike the other Kundera I've read, this novel is only partly -- not entirely -- about sex and seduction.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By RBradbury451 on November 6, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kundera could not write Laughter and Forgetting without discussing, at some length, their opposites. This overall sad "novel" has elements that are unforgettable. The novel was set in the backdrop of Prague Spring in 1968, when disaffected teachers, writers, and historians, believing that freedom from communism's bone-crushing anti-intellectualism was within reach, were seduced into tipping their hands, only to be crushed by the Russian invasion that followed in August. Tens of thousands emigrated, while hundreds of thousands were banished from their positions of power and influence. Many went to jail.

Similarities between Kundera's characters and my friends during the heady "flower power" days of the late 60's here in the USA made the novel ring sadly true and "universal" on a personal level. We were disaffected with the establishment, we felt empowered by our energy, ideals, and our sense of intellectual, political, and sexual freedom. But . . . things didn't turn out for us the way we had planned them. While the napalm was flowing in Vietnam, the tanks were rolling in Prague, and the National Guard was firing on the students at Kent state, the mistakes that affected us most severely were those that happened in our relationships with friends and lovers. It is quite true that the state will squash -"like a flea between its fingers"- the individual that steps out of its circle of preferred actors and thinkers. But it's not the state that we have to worry about. The bankruptcy in our lives is usually of our own making, a point which, despite it's railings against the establishment, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting eloquently makes.
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