To be honest, the initial
eagerness with which I dived into Milan Kundera
’s books likely stemmed from my desire to be one of those infamous
few: the true intellectuals
. Despite my status as an angsty and often pretentious teenager
, I can now confidently declare that Milan Kundera
is a genius of the purest form
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is a record of the tumultuous history of Czechoslovakia. It is also a story of idiosyncratic rules that lovers create to justify their betrayal and insecurity. It is a story of eroticism and sensuality. It is also the most whimsical of fairy tales. Moreover, the most arbitrary and miniscule incidents are pulled effortlessly into overarching themes that are fresh, unforgettable, the antithesis of clichéd. This book was translated from Czech, and still the language and metaphors especially are like the proverbial mountain stream. Kundera is that good.
Case in point: in the second chapter of the book, Kundera opens by describing two American schoolgirls who are laughing elatedly over their understanding of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinocérous. He smoothly umbrellas into a description of laughter as the height of sensual pleasure, maintaining the overarching philosophy as he dives into an autobiographical account of his secretly writing an astrology column for a communist youth journal after he has been denounced alongside the rebellious intellectuals of his time. He expertly follows that up with an explanation of the two forms of laughter, the angel’s and the devil’s.
"Thus, the angel and the devil faced each other and, mouths wide open, emitted nearly the same sounds, but each one’s noise 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." (87)
The reader comes to give Kundera a lot of credit and hence a lot of deserved leeway. As a result, this author gets away with mingling philosophy and things that seem to possess the niche of a children’s book of nursery rhymes. Due to the same granted artistic license, Kundera inserts surprising commentary on his own characters:
"I calculate that two or three new fictional characters are baptized here on earth every second. That is why am I always hesitant about joining that vast crowd of John the Baptists. But what can I do? After all, my characters need to have names. This time, to make clear that my heroine is mine and only mine (I am more attached to her than to any other), I am giving her a name no woman has ever before bourne: Tamina." (109: Note that the heroine is introduced almost halfway into the book. She makes only a few appearances.)
The confidence with which this delightful peek into Kundera’s world presents itself on the page gains the reader’s immediate acceptance. The writer of this review is tempted to quote the entire book and spare E2 of gratuitous words that mar the perfection that is being presented. I’ll take my leave now, but please, please, read it.