“The Festival of Insignificance” by Milan Kundera
(First publication in French: 2013 / This edition: Harper Collins 2015)
Taken with chocolates my good, good friend got me when she visited from California—my favorite was the “Dark Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt”!
Life is stronger than death, because life is nourished by death! (p.78)
If you ask me to list my three favorite books, I’d answer automatically: “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera, “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” by Milan Kundera, and “Immortality” by Milan Kundera. I’ve read all of his novels, but still have one or two collections of essays I need to read. My face literally lights up and my eyes expand so wide whenever “Milan Kundera” comes into conversation.
BUT I know that while there are a lot of die-hard fans of his, there are also a lot that just. don’t. like. him. (It’s okay, we can still be friends.) I think he’s one of those authors that either you love him, or you hate him. Since my top-three favorite books are all by him, it automatically makes me feel that out of 1-10, my love for this author is like…30. But when I take a moment and take a break from all this happy dancing and celebrating of his books…I realize that I actually don’t remember what his other novels are about.
Do I dare to admit that………I even felt…bored???—when I was reading “Laughable Loves”, “Identity”, and etc…I feel pretty indifferent about his other novels. I don’t dislike them, but I just didn’t feel anything.
ANYWAY, I was SO EXCITED when I heard 3-4 months ago that he actually wrote a new book! But since he wrote it in French, I had to wait for the translated version to come out. I pre-ordered it immediately after finding out, 90-something days before the English version got published. His last novel “Ignorance” came out in 2000, so of course I was ecstatic. There were even articles saying that this will probably be his last book because it seems to sum up all his life’s works and ideas.
When the book FINALLY arrived, I pushed my current book and to-be-read pile aside and dove in. I was in pj’s in bed, prepared with a mug of fresh hot coffee, all these chocolates, and a pen in my hand ready to underline a bunch of paragraphs. I was glad to see that it’s still in the same style as his novels (I had read his play “Jacques and His Master” a week or two earlier and I like his novel-style way better). The pattern, the dialogue style, the flashbacks, the irony, and the switching back and forth between dream and reality—all the components that make me love his writing style are in this book.
The novel is about a group of friends that discuss philosophy, politics, humor, sex, and the seriousness—or un-seriousness—of life. There’s a lot of funny writings on Stalin and those are my favorite parts. I enjoyed the book overall, but…I don’t know; maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention or didn’t put enough effort into understanding it. I didn’t come across that many “enlightening” or “mind-blowing” lines to underline and memorize as I had hoped for. I was a bit disappointed, but then again, maybe I just had too much expectation. And well, I think “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”, and “Immortality” are all so important to me that I’ve put the bar so high so I’ve come to have an almost-instinctive reaction of feeling “so-so” about his other books.
I’d still recommend this book though…but after you read his other books first to “understand” his ways and style first. I’m planning on re-reading it again some time in the future and maybe I’ll “appreciate” it more then…until then, I’ll just re-read my top-three for the bazillionth time. 🙂
No matter what, he’s still my #1 favorite author.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
“Time moves on. Because of time, first we’re alive—which is to say: indicted and convicted. Then we die, and for a few more years we live on in the people who knew us, but very soon there’s another change; the dead become the old dead, no one remembers them any longer and they vanish into the void; only a few of them, very, very rare ones, leave their names behind in people’s memories, but, lacking any authentic witness now, any actual recollection, they become marionettes. (p.23)
“Heaven has sent me a sign that my life is going to be even more glorious than before. Life is stronger than death, because life is nourished by death!” (p.78)
“Yes, that’s how life goes. People meet in the course of life, they talk together, they discuss, they quarrel, without realizing that they’re talking to one another across a distance, each from an observation post standing in a different place in time.”