The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera reminded me not only of why I loved Kundera's work prior to reading this but also of why I love to read. While I won't pretend to have understood much of this book and feel that it's definitely one to buy and re-read and savor, certain moments resound with poignant truth, such as the following:

" 'You begin to liquidate a people,' Hubl said, 'by taking away its memory. You destroy its books, its culture, its history. And then others write other books for it, give another culture to it, invent another history for it. Then the people slowly forget what it is and what it was. The world at large forgets it still faster.'
" 'And the language?'
" 'Why bother taking it away? It will become a mere folklore and sooner or later die a natural death.' " (218)

After reading this, my experience on the White Mountain Apache Reservation came to mind, and I thought about the history of the Native Americans since the arrival of European colonialists up through today.

Another passage that I loved: "Mirek rewrote history just like the Communist Party, like all political parties, like all peoples, like mankind. They shout that they want to shape a better future, but it's not true. The future is only an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wouding, to the point that we want to destroy or repair it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past." (30-31)

How often do people change who they are in the hope to escape who they were? How often do we construct the future in order to erase or to emulate the past? This passage struck me with its truth on an individual level and on the level of new groups, cultures, governments tearing down statues, changing streets' names, burning books.

That's the forgetting. He writes about the exaggeration of forgetting, of the past being wiped away as if never existing, and he writes about the inability to forget, of being trapped, paralyzed in memory. And he writes beautifully about the laughter of angels and demons and how irreverent laughter can be, destroying moments meant to be sacrosanct. The humor of bodies, of love, of remembering, of living.

Mmmmm, yum. I want to add his work to my library.

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