sometimes witty book reviews
I like Milan Kundera’s writing, but I’m not entirely sure why. His female characters never get to do the philosophising and rarely do they relate their life’s centre to something other than a man. His works seldom follow a continuous narrative, which makes them difficult to follow when first encountered. But, much like Primo Levi’s short stories, the prose quickly charms you to the point where you can (almost) forgive the eccentric, erotic and exploitative subjects he so favours.
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is divided into seven parts and each of these into chapters, one to five pages in length. The stories are either set in Kundera’s native Czechoslovakia or feature Czech/Slovak characters in foreign locations. Part fiction, part biography, Kundera explores subjects pertinent to his life in the mid 1970s. For example, he recounts his treatment by the Russians during their occupation of Czechoslovakia both literally and allegorically via a married couple dealing with adultery on both sides. The death of his father he discusses in both a highly intellectual and literal manner and also through the journey of a fictional woman whom he calls ‘Tamina’. After her own father’s death, Tamina is lead to an island inhabited solely by children from which she tries to escape, but drowns in the attempt.
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is often graphically confronting and sometimes very obscure. At first one feels Kundera is unnervingly obsessed with the erotic until one realises that he’s only writing the thoughts most of us experience but authors rarely delve into. Sex, human fluids and bodily functions are discussed as whimsically and as often as any other topic. This book at once intellectually stimulating and confronting to one’s well-rutted sensibilities. In short, it is a succinct and precise example of literature at its most powerful.
Reading suggestion: A brief suspension of feminist principles may be required through some sections in order to enjoy the prose.