Kundera the book of laughter and forgetting
The Most Original Book of the SeasonAnd translations really matter with Kundera — he is notoriously choosy, but approved of this one. Which, interestingly enough, was translated from the French translations of the original Czech. It is, indeed, a book of laughter and forgetting — themes which haunt the book like characters, offering the only unity available. Structurally, the book is divided into seven sections. But sections are not simple, discrete tales. This is one of the senses of forgetting in the book. He also includes himself — or, at least, an author called Milan Kundera — and each section incorporates tangents, anecdotes, fables, parables.
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
In , while exiled in France, the Czechoslovakian writer Milan Kundera wrote a novel destined to become an international success. Forbidden to be published in his homeland, Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting was written in Czech but first published in French as Le livre du rire et de l'oublie in It was subsequently translated into English and published in the United States in Although the book is generally classified as a novel, it does not have the traditional structure of beginning, middle, and end. Rather, the seven parts of the book have individual characters and different plot lines.
In Kundera's fiction, jokes are rarely a laughing matter, and laughter itself the most equivocal of human traits. Milan Kundera published The Joke in , taking advantage of the brief loosening in Soviet control to release a book that satirized the authoritarian politics of post-World War II Czechoslovakia. The punchline could have been easily predicted: after the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague the following year, Kundera was blacklisted and his works banned. By , Kundera had abandoned his reformist dreams, and escaped to a teaching position in France, where he published The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. In response, the Czech government revoked Kundera's citizenship. If we take Kundera at his word, he wants to be seen as a novelist, first and foremost, rather than a political dissident.
The strangeness of, say, Donald Bartheleme or Barry Hannah derives from shifts in a culture that, even if we do not live in Manhattan or come from Mississippi, is American and therefore instinctively recognizable. These authors ring willful changes and inversions upon forms with which we, too, have become bored, and the lines they startle us with turn out to be hitherto undiscerned lines in our own face. But the mirror does not so readily give back validation with this playful book, more than a collection of seven stories yet certainly no novel, by an expatriate Czech resident in France, fascinated by sex, and prone to sudden, if graceful, skips into autobiography, abstract rumination, and recent Czech history. Milan Kundera, he tells us, was as a young man among that moiety of Czechs--"the more dynamic, the more intelligent, the better half"--who cheered the accession of the Communists to power in February He was then among the tens of thousands rapidly disillusioned by the harsh oppressions of the new regime: "And suddenly those young, intelligent radicals had the strange feeling of having sent something into the world, a deed of their own making, which had taken on a life of its own, lost all resemblance to the original idea, and totally ignored the originators of the idea.
by Milan Kundera
The political situation in the former country of Czechoslovakia now the Czech Republic and Slovakia , where history and memory are manipulated to suit those in power, becomes a symbol for all of contemporary European culture. The novel is written in seven parts with an interwoven structure that the author likened to polyphony in music.
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Author Milan Kundera knows the truth of this statement firsthand. After participating in the Czech reform movement known as the Prague Spring—which Kundera wrote about in his smash hit The Unbearable Lightness of Being —he found himself on the wrong side of a totalitarian Communist regime. Sure, he lost his teaching position and any hope of a normal life. But worse for him was the removal of his books from Czech libraries; it was as if he had been erased from the history of his country. It's no wonder, then, that Kundera focuses so strongly on the fragility of memory in his work, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. He structures the novel as "variations on a theme" to explore how losing the past—historical or personal—undermines the identity of people and nations.
It is composed of seven separate narratives united by some common themes. The book considers the nature of forgetting as it occurs in history, politics and life in general. The stories also contain elements found in the genre of magic realism. It was finished in and was then published in France under the title: Le Livre du rire et de l'oubli in The English translation was first published in the U. Knopf , Inc.