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150 of 154 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishingly Wonderful; A Must-Read
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...
Published on April 27, 2000 by oh_pete

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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Raw and thought provoking
Kundera's raw, honest, eclectic style and satiric humor captures life in its nudity. His writing is most complex at its simplest and tragic at its funniest. It mocks and embraces the angst ridden characters in their repudiation and profession of intellectualism as it exposes the similarity in seemingly contradictory things. The novel escapes all known formats to frolic...
Published on June 22, 1999


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150 of 154 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishingly Wonderful; A Must-Read, April 27, 2000
By 
oh_pete (Cambridge. MA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (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." One of the first things the communists did after crushing the Prague Spring was to fire some one hundred forty-five Czech historians from the universities in an attempt to erase the memory of the people. It is frightening how well they might have succeeded if the Soviet economy had stayed strong for another generation or two.
THE BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING is touching and erotic, a moving and inspired intellectual feat. It is not humorous, but if you are open to the experience, it will inspire "serious laughter, laughter beyond joking." Kundera has a gentle, straightforward style that evokes rich and vivid images (at least as translated by Michael Henry Heim--I look forward to reading Aaron Asher's in the future). For anyone who has loved, for anyone who has a memory, for anyone who appreciates the freedom we have in this society, THE BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING is a must.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful philosophical - historical - sexual meditation, August 23, 2001
This review is from: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (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.
Overall, this is a combination of a brilliant reflection on history and philosophy, a warm-hearted story about dissidents in Prague, and some amusing autobiographical notes on Kundera. I found it more satisfying than Unbearable Lightness of Being, and can compare it (but only distantly) to the novels of Gunter Grass, which also discuss major political-historical events and the burden of a historical conscience, but focusing on the characters' personal lives, not hitting the reader over the head with grand historico-political lessons.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Depression and Remembering, November 6, 2005
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This review is from: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Paperback)
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.

While Kundera repeats the sins of the state several times, even opening two chapters with identical accounts of a man erased by the state, his characters fumble with sins of their own. The men, compelled to act out sexual and ego games, lead hollow lives. Ultimately, they must deal with an overwhelming sense of their own failure. The women characters do not fare much better. They get the little joy in life available to them only by forgetting the men they love.

Throughout the book, Kundera maintains that it is only by remembering that we can live and make progress. Kundera says we don't do this very well -- as nations or individuals. We try to re-write history - condemning ourselves to repetitive failure. Sound about right?

The book is as disturbing as it is wise. Laughter and Forgetting is a good introduction to the rich and complex work of Milos Kundera.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Kundera's best, July 21, 2000
This review is from: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Paperback)
One of the things that is interesting about Kundera's works is how he often ties different stories and different narrators in together, and combines stories that flow in and out in different directions (like Unbearable Lightness, perhaps his most famous, which combines two couples). This book has many stories which flow together with varied narration, and in a few of them, the narrator rises out of the page to tell his own stories. Kundera is undoubtedly a post-modernist, but there is something fascinatingly easy to read about all of his stories. It's clear from reading this how he loves and obsesses about his characters. This book is a fantastic read that really makes you think a lot about the relations between men and women, and also about life in a (former) Soviet controlled country. I think in America we feel very removed from what went on in Eastern Europe, but much of Kundera's writing based on the horrors he experienced bring you in touch with that world.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life- Changing! Read it young!, November 8, 2001
By 
Alexander M Sarlin (New York City, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Paperback)
This book totally blew my mind when I first read it, maybe more than any other book since. Kundera has a way of looking at the world that is totally unique and pretty enlightening, and although I didn't understand everything he said at the time, I feel like his sharing that view with readers is an incredible gift. None of his other books grasp it quite as completely (although several other people I've talked to also say that the first one of his they read was the best, whatever it was). Read it, read it young, and let its ideas float around in your mind forever- you'll be a more complex thinker, I guarantee it. (I'm not sure how much my guarantee means to you, but it means a lot to me)
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book I Ever Read, March 4, 1998
By A Customer
This is the best book I ever read. I first read it in 1986 and have re-read it six times since. Although the joy and wonder is not quite the same on successive reads, I have never puzzled why this book so enchanted me. As another reviewer wrote, the book simply changed my life. Never have I read a book which radiated such intellectual force. Kundera's technique of retelling the same story from different character's perspective is illuminating and enthralling (though it becomes a bit stale in some of his later works.) This marvelous book is not for everyone and serves as a Rohrshack test. After I first read it I immediately sent copies to my four best friends. Two wondered what exactly I saw in the book and the other two agreed it was the most brilliant work of fiction they had ever read. The book took on a life of its own. Twice I gave it to my then girlfriends. In both instances, the girlfriend never read the book but their mothers did! (hoping to gain some insight into the new boyfriend) Mother #1 concluded I was a cynical, morose pervert. Mother #2 loved the book and later became my mother in law. The only sad note is that Kundera never again achieved this level of brilliance, certainly not in the "Unbearable Lightness of Being." My second favorite Kundera novel is "Life is Elsewhere."
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I hope someone will read this., August 28, 2000
By 
Mark Filipiak (Highland, Indiana) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Paperback)
In this somewhat somber farce of a novel, Kundera seems to capture the essence of the plight of modern life. In seven integrated parts, Kundera takes us through a whirlwind of emotions as the lives of the characters are often mirrored in some Kundera contorted fashion to one's own life. Kundera writes sometimes in a shocking and unabashfed way, which can make one gasp, shudder, and laugh all at the same time. And throughout the novel there is the recurring theme as to how does a person live today within complexities of relationships, careers, politics, ect., without being crushed by their weight or letting themselves be fluttered away into meaninglessnes. And although Kundera writes in an ambiguous way, he carries us to that borderline at which one can live within the extremes, and he carries one there on the coattails of not only laughter and forgetting but also at the same time with solemnity and remembering.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Great Book, July 12, 2002
This review is from: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Paperback)
This work by Franco-Czech writer (not a combination one sees everyday) is best if read quickly before or after his other great work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. All of Kundera's works take a post-modern approach to the novel's themes and style, liberally sprinkling philosophical and metaphysical questions throughout the text; this one is no exception. It's constant and enduring image is that of the Circle Dance, as shown on the cover, and its power to allow the human spirit to rise into the clouds. The classical opinion of what a novel should be must be abandoned, or at least silenced, in order to thoroughly enjoy this work, but it makes any trouble well worth it. HIghest recommendation.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very, very good......but not for Kundera.., August 23, 2001
By 
JC "padre_catez" (Koshigaya, Saitama Japan) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Paperback)
I would quickly give this book five stars, but having read two other Kundera novels, this is my least favorite. It was intellectual, of course, but it wasn't as idea-oriented as the Unbearable Lightness of Being or Immortality. It had some great passages about laughter, communism, and music, but Kundera's generalizations and aphorisms weren't as convincing they are in his later works. Also, I wasn't moved by the ending.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to Kundera's work..., January 28, 2007
By 
This review is from: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Paperback)
This is one of Kundera's best works and a good place to start for an introduction to his fiction. I don't use the term "novel" because Kundera hesitates to use it. As he says in the text, this book is made up of little vignettes (with no common characters) which are different "variations" on the themes of laughter and forgetting. Like much of Kundera's work, it deals with the subjugation of the Czech people. When the Russians took over their country, they instituted a program of official "forgetting" - erasing the country's culture and history. The book is a good example of Kundera's philosophical style - with an emphasis on telling, not showing.
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The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera (Paperback - April 7, 1999)
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