The Book of Laughter and Forgetting isn't a novel. Milan Kundera himself calls it a variation on a theme, namely on laughter and forgetting, and in fact it's a collection of seven independent stories linked together by those two essential reactions of human nature to the outside world, be it in the sphere of politics, history, love or life in general.
The first story titled Lost Letters is about Mirek who wishes to forget his Communist youth which included a love affair with unalluring Zdena. Mama is the second story. It deals with an old woman from a provincial town who visits her son Karel and daughter-in-law Marketa in Prague. In the third story The Angels in the shape of two American students and a teacher called Mrs. Raphael make an appearance. It's a story about absurdity. The Lost Letters of the fourth story are those of Tamina's late husband which they left in Prague together with her diaries, when they fled from Czechoslovakia some years earlier. In his fifth story Milan Kundera explains the idea of Lítost, "a state of torment caused by a sudden insight into one’s own miserable self" which - as it seems - has no word in any other than the Czech language. The Angels and Tamina reappear and eventually disappear in the sixth story together with Milan Kundera's terminally ill father. The final story is titled The Border and is dedicated to the idea of socially accepted conduct as well as reform.
There are many passages in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting which remind of magical realism. In addition Milan Kundera interspersed his stories with many autobiographical remarks and first-hand historical information about Czechoslovakia and her people. Altogether it may not be an easy read for a relaxed weekend at home because the book requires concentration as well as a certain gift for reading between the lines and deciphering symbols.
The complete review is available on my blog Edith's Miscellany. Just click here to go directly to the post.