Top positive review
159 people found this helpful
Astonishingly Wonderful; A Must-Read
on April 27, 2000
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three years after Kundera escaped the Iron Curtain and set down new roots in France, this book is also an important historical document.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.