7 votes

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera

By way of introduction to the wonderfulness of Kundera it's hard to beat this, his first book. 'Laughable Loves', a collection of short stories, will do as well, though with a bit less history of Cold-war era Czechoslovakia that really brings his works home.

Many know 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' from the film but I'd start here still.

On Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Book-Laughter-Forgetting-Milan-Kundera...

Free look-inside, get yours for under $6 delivered, love Kundera.

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Michael Nystrom's picture

I saw the title of this thread, and I knew it was you Chris

On my first big trip after college, I went to live in Japan for a while, and took two books with me: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which my girlfriend at the time gave me, and a collection of short stories by Ramond Carver, Where I'm Calling From, that a good friend gave me.

I was shocked, on the plane to discover the inscription / opening at the beginning in Carvers book:

We can never know what to want,
because living only one life, we can neither
compare it with our previous lives
nor perfect it in our lives to come.

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

And as this 22 year old kid, fresh out of the egg I was like, "Whoa! Synchronicity!"

Kundera's book is forever blended in my memory of sitting in this little park in Tokyo, reading before it was time to go to work, watching the whole city go by. And Carver - I had no appreciation for Carver when I was 22. Just too young.

And that quote stuck with me for a long time, and for a while I let it define me, until I came to understand that it's not true. 23 years later, I'm a long way from the scrawny kid I was in Japan, and I've lived many lifetimes along the way.

Thanks for the memories, Chris. The book of Laughter and Forgetting sounds like a good one, on a nice sandy beach and a (not too hot) summer day without a care in the world.

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Synchronicity: The Art Of Being

" ... Kundera believes we have to compose our own lives, but the idea of fortuities is new to me. “Fortuities” seem similar to events that some people refer to as “synchronicities,” especially those who attribute mystical or religious overtones to such events. Having experienced such synchronicities in my own life, it’s tempting to either dismiss them as mere “coincidence,” when things were going well, or cling to them as if they are messages from the Gods, when bad luck was all the luck I had. "

http://www.lorenwebster.net/In_a_Dark_Time/2002/05/22/a-symp...

"It is wrong, then, to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences . . . but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty."

— Milan Kundera in There Are No Accidents

Michael Nystrom's picture

Wow - I have to read it again

I read it once again, probably ten years after I first went to Japan. I was surprised to realize how much that book had influenced me. My books are in chaos, because I just moved, but I have it around here somewhere (not the same copy, unfortunately, but I have the same copy of 'Where I'm calling from')

Thanks.

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If those little coincidences mean anything at all...

it is to reassure us we are on the right path after all.

In keeping with the theme of short story collections by Iron Curtain expats, I could recommend Tyrants Destroyed by Vladimir Nabokov:

http://www.amazon.com/Tyrants-Destroyed-Stories-Vladimir-Nab...

Not nearly as well known as it should be, not excellent but very good, not well-bound in the soft cover edition, read this book if that's what you're into.

"Damn the pandas, full steam ahead"

-Admiral David Farragut

Michael Nystrom's picture

Ah, Nabakov

Yes, it is nice to see the little breadcrumbs that the Universe leaves for us. As if to say, "follow along. This is the way."

Speaking of which, I was just over on the jam session thread talking about Synchronicity, the Police album from - '83? '84?

This isn't the song that references Nabakov (but I thought it was)


http://youtu.be/svWINSRhQU0

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Bump

Love Kundera's novels - well recommended.

One of those authors you discover one day...

and think he's writing just for you, only to find out the rest of the world has fallen in love with him as well, causing you to want to share him and keep him all for yourself at the same time. Or something like that...

Did I choose the right book of his to highlight? 'Immortality' is fantastic as well, and of course 'lightness' is the popular choice and for no ungood reason... hell, they're all great...

"Damn the pandas, full steam ahead"

-Admiral David Farragut

I Definitely Relate To These Sentiments

The experience will not be shared in any event, but will prove unique to the individual and their moment in their own history. For that reason Kundera can be reread and experienced anew by each reader at other times in their own lives.

In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the narrator proclaims: "In the realm of totalitarian kitsch, all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions. It follows, then, that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions."

I believe Kundera has much to offer those, like many on this forum, who are on personal journeys intrigued by political questions.

See:
http://www.ucalgary.ca/hic/issues/vol6/3

"The chief political contribution of art may be found in the questions it raises rather than in its specific answers, as Kundera (among many others) argues. The poet Charles Tomlinson once said: "The artist lies for the improvement of the truth. Believe him." A reformulation of this proposition can be: use the artist and her work as an emotional, intellectual, and sometimes moral stimulant, as an awakener, as a provider of good questions; believing her particular prescriptions or programmatic ideas is no more urgent than believing anybody else's. Again, freedom exudes primarily from the conditions that are met to allow art to flourish, not from the artist's particular political (or apolitical) inclinations. One is tempted to say that the artist or novelist is in a position similar to a character in a novel as typically defined by Kundera: unique, yet not prevailing; simply adding to the group dynamic. This is, it seems to me, an important distinction to be made to appreciate how literature and freedom have fed each other since the dawn of time."