18. ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’ by Milan Kundera

The Book:

Kundera’s style is complex and enigmatic. Combining fragmented stories with historical narrative and philosophical contemplation, ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’ is just as compelling as that other great work, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’.

The book is broken up into several sections, which follow different characters whose lives may be ostensibly separate, but which nevertheless relate to each other through the wider contexts of politics and Prague. There are also autobiographical elements in which Kundera refers directly to his life and past.

Laughter and forgetting – the two touchstones mentioned in the title – reappear throughout the book. Laughter encourages forgetting, new events cancel out the old, and characters constantly forget and try to recapture their lost pasts. This is as much a book about Prague as it is about the people that inhabit it.

There are some brilliant insights – like the comparison of communism to a Bach fugue – and the elusive prose flows beautifully. Kundera creates a dream-like atmosphere with moments of writing so cutting that you can almost feel it. This is another fantastic treatise from a master of metaphor.

“For everybody is pained by the thought of disappearing unheard and unseen into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words.”

The Background:

I bought this book on one of my recent book binges. I have already read ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, and the covers on his books are always so attractive, that I thought it was time to read some more Kundera.

Oddly, when I got to section 6 I realised that I had read it before. It must have been part of my Masters, but I’m not sure – it’s a very strange sensation to get to the end of a book and feel like you’ve already read it!


If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?

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2 Comments on “18. ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’ by Milan Kundera

  1. Kundera was one of the reasons I contemplated studying Czech literature at uni, I love his style.

    But then I got into my Japanese phase and pondered a degree in comparative lit :) I recommend ‘Snow Country’ by Yasunari Kawabata as one of the 50 if you haven’t read it already!

  2. I love Japanese writers! I’ve read loads of Haruki Murakami – I’ll add Kawabata to my (long) list to buy. I always welcome recommendations!

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