Rich in its stories, characters, and imaginative range, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is the novel that brought Milan Kundera his first big international success in the late 1970s. Like all his work, it is valuable for far more than its historical implications. In seven wonderfully integrated parts, different aspects of human existence are magnified and reduced, reordered and emphasized, newly examined, analyzed, and experienced.… (more)
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.
The bloody massacre in Bangladesh quickly covered over the memory of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the assassination of Allende drowned out the groans of Bangladesh, the war in the Sinai Desert made people forget Allende, the Cambodian massacre made people forget Sinai, and so on and so forth until ultimately everyone lets everything be forgotten.
The man spoke, all the others listened with interest, and their bare genitals stared stupidly and sadly at the yellow sand.
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).
Rich in its stories, characters, and imaginative range, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is the novel that brought Milan Kundera his first big international success in the late 1970s. Like all his work, it is valuable for far more than its historical implications. In seven wonderfully integrated parts, different aspects of human existence are magnified and reduced, reordered and emphasized, newly examined, analyzed, and experienced.
That is a long sentence.
You enter the world of the characters in each story, and they spring to life. The writing style is deceptively simple. Don't let that fool you.
There are depths, which you sense only if you are acutely aware of the people who surround you. Their language, their hypocrisy, their clothing, their society, their anxieties.
The stories are short, and each is complete in itself. ( )