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The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978)

by Milan Kundera

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,357511,359 (3.89)110
The only authorized translation of the bestselling masterpiece by one of the greatest authors of our time, "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" is part fairy tale, part literary criticism, part political tract, part musicology, and part autobiography.

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» See also 110 mentions

English (44)  French (4)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Hebrew (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (51)
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
I didn't laugh. And it was quickly forgotten.

Kundera knew how to write. (I speak in the past tense because he is now 90 years old and I wonder how much writing he's doing nowadays.) But he chose to write about things I find it very hard to care about. In this, more than in Unbearable Lightness, he glorifies sex frequently as a rite of passage, and goes on at great length about its incredible significance. The characters are all so literary. So avant-garde, and in this day and age, cliched. There is a lot of political drama too. But hasn't everything in the book been done before, and done by Kundera specifically? Yes, the characters were witty, but that was about the extent of their depth in my opinion.

I understand if you enjoy his polished sentences and pithy remarks. There's satire and humor and possibly some heart. I won't argue with you about his skill. But I'm usually looking for a different brand of literature. ( )
  LSPopovich | Apr 8, 2020 |
Some beautiful, moving prose here, and some intense commentary pertaining to the cultural moment from which it emerged. In the end, though, I could not reconcile myself to the violence done to women in this novel--both the graphic sort and the "passive" sort, by which I mean the violence of squashing women into flat, objectified characters. I don't believe in giving a book a pass on this kind of thing just because it's old. ( )
  deeEhmm | Sep 17, 2019 |
My rating is questionable. I am afraid that Kundera's characters and situations have shifted into an melange of protest; one which remains indistinct in my ability to appreciate and discern. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
A chaotic and self-indulgent blend of fiction, history, politics, eroticism, absurdity. The first vignette was the highlight of the book for me: I've read the book twice and that was all I remembered from one reading to the next. I won't read it again.

(There's more on my blog here.) ( )
  LizoksBooks | Dec 15, 2018 |
Es complicado hacer una crítica acerca de una novela (o algo mucho más que eso) de Milan Kundera. Principalmente, porque se trata de un trabajo muy íntimo, muy especial y hasta personal. Da la impresión, incluso, de que invadimos su propia vida al hacernos con sus palabras. Palabras escritas con la hermosura de un maestro de la literatura.

El libro de la risa y el olvido trata sobre muchos temas, pero nunca sobre la risa o sobre el olvido. Porque la risa, aquí, aparece tintada de amargura y de tristeza. Porque cuando Kundera nos escribe sobre la risa, tan solo sabe hablar de risas falsas, o risas grises, tan grises que duelen. Y, en cuanto al olvido, el olvido no existe para Kundera, porque el olvido está lleno de recuerdos.

Tamira, el personaje principal, recueda muchísimo a Teresa (su personaje femenino protagonista de La insoportable levedad del ser). Bajo la misma permisa que sufría Teresa, Tamira (vaya, si hasta tienen nombres similares), también vive fuera de su país, víctima del exilio, y trabaja allí como camarera. Sufre la muerte de su marido, que Kundera aprovecha para hablar de la muerte de su propio padre con dulzura y dolor. La muerte, en sí, es un tema recurrente en esta obra de Kundera.

Hermosa, en el propio y estricto sentido de la palabra, refiriéndose a la hermosura literaria, he disfrutado enormemente de sus páginas, careciendo de medios propios para criticarla de modo alguno. Tal vez no soy imparcial con Milan Kundera, pero escribe las novelas que yo siempre he deseado leer. ( )
  MiriamBeizana | Dec 3, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Milan Kunderaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Asher, AaronTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In February 1948, the Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to harangue hundreds of thousands of citizens massed in Old Town Square.
"The invention of printing formerly enabled people to understand one another. In the era of universal graphomania, the writing of books has an opposite meaning: everyone surrounded by his own words as by a wall of mirrors, which allow no voice to filter through from outside."
The first time an angel heard the devil’s laughter, he was dumbfounded. That happened at a feast in a crowded room, where the devil’s laughter, which is terribly contagious, spread from one person to another. The angel clearly understood that such laughter was directed against God and against the dignity of His works. He knew that he must react swiftly somehow, but felt weak and defenseless. Unable to come up with anything of his own, he aped adversary. Opening his mouth, he emitted broken, spasmodic sounds in the higher reaches of his vocal range (a bit like the sound made on the street of a seaside town by Michelle and Gabrielle), but giving them an opposite meaning: whereas the devil’s laughter denoted the absurdity of things, the angel on the contrary meant to rejoice over how well ordered, wisely conceived, good and meaningful everything here below was.

The angel and the devil faced each other and, mouths wide open, emitted nearly the same sounds, but each one’s noises expressed the absolute opposite of the other’s. And seeing the angel laugh, the devil laughed all the more, all the harder, and all the more blatantly, because the laughing angel was infinitely comical.

Laughable laughter is disastrous. Even so, the angels have gained something from it. They have tricked us with a semantic imposture. Their imitation of laughter and (the devil’s) original laughter are both called by the same name. Nowadays, we don’t even realize that the same external display serves two absolutely opposed internal attitude. There are two laughters, and we have no word to tell one from the other.
It takes so little, so infinitely little, for a person to cross the border beyond which everything loses meaning: love, conviction, faith, history. Human life --- and herein lies its secret --- takes place in the immediate proximity of that border, even in direct contact with it; it is not miles away, but a fraction of an inch.
We are living in the great historical era when physical love will be once and for all transformed into ridiculous motions.  
People fascinated by the idea of progress never suspect that every step forward is also a step on the way to the end and that behind all the joyous "onward and upward" slogans lurks the lascivious voice of death urging us to make haste.  
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Please note: Michael Henry Heim translated the 1st English-language version (1980) from Czech; and Aaron Asher translated the 2nd English-language version (1996) from the revised French version (1985).
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