- Series: Perennial Classics
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition (April 7, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060932147
- ISBN-13: 978-0140096934
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 81 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Book of Laughter and Forgetting Paperback – April 7, 1999
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""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.""-- New York Times""This book, as it bluntly calls itself, is brilliant and original, written with the purity and wit that invite us directly in."-- John Updike, "New York Times Book Review"
About the Author
Milan Kundera is the author of the novels The Joke, Farewell Waltz, Life Is Elsewhere, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Immortality, and the short-story collection Laughable Loves—all originally written in Czech. His most recent novels Slowness, Identity, and Ignorance, as well as his nonfiction works The Art of the Novel, Testaments Betrayed, The Curtain, and Encounter, were originally written in French.
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This book predates 'Unbearable Lightness of Being' and it's spiritual sequel 'Immortality' and you can see many of the themes from those emerging here. There is almost no narrative path connecting the entire book unlike the other two mentioned but as fans of Kundera might expect the whole work feels cohesive in a hard to explain way. The story shifts effortlessly between musings on the thematic intentions of classical composers to brutally objective descriptions of sexual debauchery. Even more than other books by this author this book almost requires repeat readings or extensive margin notes. Although the story never drags, it is often hard to get your bearings when you pick it up midway. The story is dense enough and Kundera's dry almost morbid humor is entertaining enough that reading in small chunks is not a waste but you will definitely reach the end wondering if you missed something important.
The amount of 'taboo' subjects and crazy situations contained the book will make you cringe while trying to recommend it to your friends. It almost feels too personal to give any specific opinions about the book knowing that another person will have that in mind as they reached parts the evoke mixed and confusing emotional responses. All in all an excellent book but I wouldn't recommend it to my mom.
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.