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0039 | The Book of Laughter & Forgetting – Milan Kundera

If you enjoyed this book, you’re going to love the map.

Erm… if anyone can enlighten me on what it is I’ve just read, I’d be more than grateful. I really don’t have much of a clue.

While this had some great quotes in it and some erudite philosophy at points (reminded of a lot of de Botton’s recent books), I was totally mystified by the narrative elements of this book. Sure, I know that there’s supposed to be a connection, but, for the life of me, I just can’t see it.

The book’s mega famous right so there must be something here. So, if anyone can tell me what it is I’m supposed to be seeing here, it will redeem the time I’ve spent reading it. I felt though that I was staring at some really really famous abstract art and just not getting it.

I will comment on one part that struck me as a bit strange. He writes:

All of us are prisoners of a rigid conception of what is important and what is not, and so we fasten our anxious gaze on the important, while from a hiding place behind our backs the unimportant wages its guerilla war, which will end in surreptitiously changing the world and pouncing on us by surprise.

Well, if ALL of us are like this, then there isn’t a single one of us that is actually focussed on what’s important. That seems a very cynical way to look at the world.

And if no one can explain it to me, I guess I’ll just laugh and forget it.

Picked this up from a fellow ex-pat in Seoul. It was a pirated photocopy that wouldn’t open properly and had really bad quality text.

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 great secret of life: Women don’t look for handsome men. Women look for men who have beautiful women.

Historical events mostly imitate one another without any talent.

O lovers! Be careful in those dangerous first days! Once you’ve brought breakfast in bed you’ll have to bring it forever, unless you want to be accused of lovelessness and betrayal.

Things deprived suddenly of their supposed meaning… make us laugh.

the novel is the fruit of human illusion. The illusion of the power to understand others.

all of man’s life… is nothing other than a battle to seize the ear of others.

We write books because our children aren’t interested in us.

love is a continual interrogation. I don’t know of a better definition of love.

sex is not love but merely a territory love takes over.

praxis | misogynist | demagogue

Czech» Prague Spring | Jaroslav Hasek
German» Arthur Schopenhauer | Opus 111 |


If you’ve got Google Earth installed on your pc, you can actually see the locations mentioned in this book by downloading Arukiyomi’s Google Earth – Book of Laughter & Forgetting file.

The man spoke, all the others listenied with interest, and their bare genitals stared stupidly and sadly at the yellow sand.

at the breakfast table on a Sunday morning, Itaewon, Seoul, Korea.

terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good> excellent > superb

7 comments… add one
  • Dewey 10 July, 2007, 3:21 am

    Ha ha, your reaction is similar to the one I had when I tried to read Kundera in college.

    The first quote, the one you called strange, I think it’s a fancypants paraphrase of John Lennon’s “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” 😉

  • verbivore 24 July, 2007, 9:26 pm

    Hi, reached you via Semicolon and stumbled upon your review of Kundera. I had a similar reaction to his work and then I read an article he wrote for the New Yorker where he went over his larger literary project. I think this particular book is a good illustration of that. He’s not interested in ‘narrative’ so much as he is in the power of literature to transform/inform our perception of reality. Which make his books complicated and less cohesive than other fiction. I always feel I’ve learned something when I read Kundera but I don’t get lost in the reading the way I do with other novels.

    On another note – I love the “arukiyomi” idea.

  • Cipriano 10 August, 2007, 12:40 pm

    Interesting comments. He is different, for sure. Sometimes a bit baffling.
    I am currently reading [almost finished] Kundera’s [1990] book called Immortality, and I am LOVING it.
    It is my third Kundera book [Identity and The Unbearable Lightness of Being] and he will now be 2 for 3. I liked Identity, but did not much “get” TULoB.
    As you say you did not “get” this one… about laughing, and forgetting.
    One must really enjoy philosophical digression [as i do, most of the time] to like Kundera, I think.

  • meli 16 August, 2007, 8:35 pm

    I love love love Immortality. It is a beautiful and wonderful book. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is quite good too. Haven’t read this one though. Read Ignorance, which was ok but didn’t blow me away, and Slowness which I didn’t like at all. He does go on about the same things a bit. But Immortality is a masterpiece.

  • Cipriano 26 August, 2007, 3:35 pm

    Agreed, Meli.
    Well, about you loving of Immortality, I mean.
    It is somewhat of a masterpiece, yes, I think so.
    Even though, I feel guilty saying so, on Arukiyomi’s blog. Like my daddy taught me to not cancel out his vote, politically….. “As long as you live in this house son, you will NOT cancel my vote!”
    I loved the book. What can I say?

  • Arukiyomi 27 August, 2007, 3:34 am

    heh heh no don’t worry… anyway we’re not talking about Laughter being a masterpiece so that’s okay!

  • Zuzana 26 August, 2008, 9:50 pm

    Well thanks god for these comments. I don’t have the unpleasant feeling that something is wrong with my percepction anymore.. Sometimes I got lost between the lines (ok I admit – reading in foreign language is always struggle ) but this time it was NOT the form.
    However, I do like it even thought I spent a bit more time to get through the text. As I am from the same counnry as the author as this was the fith one by him, I have to agree… the most baffling one…

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