on August 28, 1999
I can not stop wondering how Milan Kundera takes penetrating glimpses at love's triumphs and tragedies that we so often pass by without any acknowledgement. In the love stories of ordinary people he brings up the desperate longing for closeness and warmth of having a partner by one's side; a partner in love or friendship to find a shelter from everything else. The eroticism of the book is not just a sexual instinct of a male. It envelopes the reader in a sad and sweet embrace of the mundane events drenched with it; the events that we fail to recognize as turning points of our lives. Milan Kundera seems to be saying every time, "Look around! You do not have to watch movies to experince strong passions because they are around you every single minute."
on July 10, 2002
Kundera puts some of his favorite themes to work in a playful way, as suggested by the title. Throughout the seven short stories in Laughable Loves Kundera highlights the role that mutual misunderstandings play in the creation of seemingly profound, heroic, self-congratulatory experiences, especially where love is concerned. Several tales are heavily ironic: wonderful contradictions emerge when people who cannot take themselves seriously try desperately hard to do so in order to please the straightfaced world in which they find themselves stuck. Similarly, the plasticity of personality, the wispy, fleeting character of existence and the partnership between sadism and sexual desire permeate his plots. Kundera blurs the distinction between charade and authenticity creating the suspicion that human identities may be centerless webs of charades - yet this lack of depth need not be bleak or tragic: it can be liberating and beautiful.
These stories are a joy to read if you're in the mood for ambiguous endings and ironic humor. Although they lack the gravity of his full-length novels I think the short stories in Laughable Loves succeed: irony, not sublimity, is the goal. I gave it four stars because it didn't grip me the way some of Kundera's stuff has in the past while at the same time it was certainly fun (and often psychologically insightful) reading.
on August 8, 1999
This is a collection of short stories about love particularly from the male perspective. Each looks at contrasting different aspects of love with unnerving verisimilitude. Kundera's observation of human behaviour is startingly accurate as he deftly unravels the male psyche; the female characters are no more idly portrayed either. The prose is lucid, elegant and concise, as is the situational complicity of each plot. This book shows how men are consumed by, and can be crippled by love (in a way that many women think impossible) and how this can tenuously result in them acting as they do - often as irreverent, cold-hearted bastards. Women, read this to understand your hubby/men in general; men, read this to know that you are not alone.
"We pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded." says Kundera. Most of the characters in this collection of seven great stories are blind in one way or another. If they happen to be wise, they turn out, after all, to be unbearably light, chasing after women, embracing men, for no purpose whatsoever other than that is what they seem destined to do. Their perspectives on themselves are often pitifully unrealistic, hence the stories tend to center around misunderstandings. The men can't break the habit of "continuing conquest". The women seem remarkably prone to give in. Even when the men are happily married, the chase still beckons. With great humor and wit, with a lot of philosophical depth, Kundera traces the mentality of various Czechs in different walks of life in the 1960s through the medium of their sometimes tawdry love life. Tales of would-be conquests turn out to be critiques of society, questions about the meaning of life, or witty perspectives on the old theme of youth vs. age. Great Romeos turn out to be duds, burnt-out old flames can be lit again. Eroticism is not what it is cracked up to be, but sometimes it's more than we expect. Great stuff.
Maybe it's a special Czech style of writing about love, maybe it's that wry, ironic humor found in Hasek and Skvorecky that I've always liked, but Kundera's characters lack the aggression, material concerns, or passion for commitment found in American novels as well as lacking the love of style found in the French. They are simply average people with limitless libido. So are they average ? That one is up to you. In a story about how desire for a girl makes a young man invent a religious fervor, then defend it to the local Party committee, winding up in bed with his boss, who is supposed to purge him of religion, Kundera turns away from the plot to write...."it seemed to Eduard that [the girl's religious] ideas were in fact only a veneer on her destiny, and her destiny only a veneer on her body; he saw her as an accidental conjunction of a body, ideas, and a life's course, an inorganic structure, arbitrary and unstable. ....He saw her as an ink line, spreading on a blotter: without contours, without shape." The skill of a man who can stick lines like this into a story which STILL manages to entertain has to be seen to be believed. Each story provides its own stock of surprises. This is the first book by Kundera I've ever read. It certainly won't be the last.
on May 24, 2004
Laughable Loves makes for a brilliant pocket edition of Kundera: bitsized chunks of surreal yet less complex stories that, in a typically Kundera manner, are delectably introspective yet comic.
Kundera is one of the handful of authors who so can smoothly shift the reader from mundane concerns into latent madness as to almost challenge one's faith in the material world. His world is spare, unadorned, almost like a room that needs to be furnished by our own mind. Games, dreams and schemes abound in all these little stories as different characters react in different ways to romantic impulses.
Part preposterous, part enchanting, but never for a moment boring. I highly recommended this volume of laughable loves that will leave you thinking long after your grins have turned in for the night.
on July 13, 2004
"Laughable Loves" was originally published in three separate editions with a total of ten stories. Eventually, three of the stories were dropped and the order of the last two pairs of stories was switched. Kundera, by making these changes, tried to combine the stories into one unified work, like "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting."
It didn't work. The seven stories are, frankly, not connected. They give a good picture of life in Czechoslovakia at the time, but combining to form a picture of a life in a certain period at a certain place does not make one unified work. It's a collection of short stories, not a single novel.
But who cares! Erotic, comic, frightening, lighthearted, perceptive - all of these and more are easily applicable adjectives (for, for example, "Symposium," "Nobody Will Laugh," "The Hitchiking Game," "The Golden Apple of Eternal Desire," and "Eduard and God" respectively). The short stories are above all interesting and not as tough-to-read (some would say pompous and pseudo-intellectual) as Kundera's later works. The two best stories are "Eduard and God" and "The Hitchiking Game." "Symposium" isn't far behind. It's fun, it's literary but neither boring nor pretentious - enjoy!
on November 2, 1999
Milan Kundera remains one of the few very rare people who have to ability to tell it like it is in the foggy world of love and life. Reading his stories is like being slowly and sweetly pierced through the heart with a fine needle- never have i experienced a more brutal and honest portrayal of Love, in all its grotesqueness and magnificence. Particularly the first one which made me go 'yes! those are the mindgames i play too!" Couldn't put the book down after.
on December 21, 2006
I just came across this collection of short stories, and as a devoted Kundera fan, I quickly devoured it amidst Christmas preparations, letter writings and other more dreary readings. And what a delight! This is early Bohemian Kundera, written while he still lived in then Czechoslovakia, and it is quite evident that he has not yet matured into the thoroughly seasoned writer that produced masterpieces such as "Life is Elsewhere", "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "Immortality". However, this is unmistakenly literary genius in the making, and the mood throughout is simply captivating.
The themes all deal with aspects of human sexuality - mostly from a Man's view. The stories have a raw sense of humanity to them - sometimes it can be uncomfortable reading; however, it has an undeniably tender undercurrent. Even when a character behaves despicably, I remained sympathtic with the human behind the actions. It just feels irresistably honest, and it is quite easy to get seduced by such well-portrayed human complexities.
Among my favorite stories were "The Old Dead Must Make Room for the New Dead", which portrays the dilemma of whether to preserve a diffuse, but beautiful sensual memory or replace it with a graphic, but uglier version that will ultimately erase the former. "Edward and God" is another gem that deals with sexual longing and the fickleness of Religion (Atheism is cleverly presented just as irrational in its dogmatisms as Christianity).
Finally "The Hitchhiking Game" is a classic portrayal of how easily perceptions can be irreversibly altered.
I highly recommend this short-story collection; however, if you are reading Milan Kundera for the first time, I am tempted to recommened one of his more famous works...
on September 26, 2000
In this small and complex work, Kundera criticizes the hypocrisy of formal faiths in favor of a more illogically, emotionally-based spirituality. This story, told in the style of a fairy tale, is framed with mystical language and ideas. At the beginning, Edward, having never even considered believing in God, comes to perceive a way in which God can help him win Alice. Even more than in The Joke, the characters of Edward and God represent rigid ideas rather than natural people. Alice uses her religiosity as a means of superiority over others, superficially to defy the hated communists. Her comical God of no Fornication is devoid of any abstraction, and hence, ridiculous.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Communists are equally portrayed as spiritually poor. The narrator speaks bluntly of their motives, "thanks to religion they can stand again in all their glory on the correct side and retain that so habitual and precious sense of their own superiority." The validity of both of these institutions (Christianity and the Soviet personality) begin to deteriorate early on. In Edward and Alice's theological arguments, they both make uninformed contentions, indicating their superficial understanding of religious doctrine.
Edward's own experiences among such seemingly strong beliefs come to have no deeper meaning for him, either. They unintentionally (and humorously) become twisted avenues by which he, too, can attain power. When Alice lifts her sexual prohibitions so easily, without a turnabout in her soul, she abandons her former mechanism of vengeance (organized religion) for what she perceives to be a stronger one (solidarity with Edward). By employing such obviously exaggerated and manipulated behavior, I do not think Kundera is criticizing the basic notions behind religion and socialism, but instead the perversion and abuse of these purer ideas.
In the end, the experience of such hollowness leaves Edward disillusioned. He suddenly longs to have God in his life and to believe in God's existence, as God "is essence itself...the essential opposite of this unessential world."
The reader, however, is left with only an ambiguous, mystical conclusion since Kundera deliberately leaves the story open to individual interpretation. I, personally, see the last chapter as Kundera once again having the last laugh, perhaps telling us not to take life, or love, too seriously.
on December 27, 2000
I was steered to this collection after reading "The Hitchhiking Game" in another anthology. The "Game" is still my favorite out of this bunch...
The stories are solid, amusing, and entertaining. I was glad to see that my male mind is not as warped as I've been told it is.
These stories, though captivating as you read them, tend to dissipate in the mind soon after. That is why I labeled this review "light reading." \
Women will enjoy this collection either as an informative primer of the male mind, or as more ammunition to use against us.
Satyrs of the world unite!