Seven stories about laughter, love, randomness and nostalgia,
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This review is from: Laughable Loves (Paperback)
I've re-discovered Kundera's charming books many years after my first introduction to (and immersion in) them; I had originally read some of his books when I was still an adolescent. It's interesting with Kundera; I think if someone reads his books, as is often the case, in their teens and early twenties, they leave the reader with a completely different impression than when read later in life. What seemed, in my teens, charming sophistry about faraway stages of life- interesting but basically irrelevant to me- now becomes much more resonant, bitter and true to my current experience. All those philosophical, whimsical, laugh out loud funny but (at heart) tragic thoughts that Kundera is a master of become more painful, true to life and ironic, but also much more deeply enjoyable, when read in middle life. At least that's been my experience of re-reading Kundera recently.
`Laughable loves' is a collection of 7 love stories written in (the then) Czechoslovakia, in the 60s. Differently to `The Joke' (which I read a few weeks ago), here Kundera allows politics to remain in the background, although it's interesting to read through the lines and imagine the authoritarian background against which the love stories Kundera describes play themselves out.
There's a thread running through all seven love stories, and I suppose it's evident in the title: they're all laughable! Each of them is an expression of the randomness of life and the illusion that we control our stories, including our love stories: `it had only been my illusion', says the protagonist of one story, `that we ourselves saddle events and control their course; the truth is that they aren't our stories at all, that they are foisted on us from somewhere outside; that in no way do they represent us; that we are not to blame for the strange paths they follow; that they are themselves directed from who knows where by who knows what strange forces'.
Some of the stories, for example `Nobody will laugh', are linked to `The Joke' as they involve the development of an innocent, random joke into a series of serious events: `we pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded. We are permitted merely to sense and guess at what we are actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can we glance at the past and find out what we have experienced and what meaning it has'.
Other stories, e.g. `The golden apple of eternal desire' or `dr Havel after 20 years', involve games that are continued because of nostalgia and because of the love of youth even when they have long lost their original meaning. `The hitchhiking game' involves a game which has gradually become a trap for the lovers involved, without their conscious knowledge or understanding of how this transformation came about.
My personal favourite was `Eduard and God', the final story in the book, which brought tears of laughter to my eyes; this is yet another story about randomness, lies, games, jokes- all in the context of how people deal with love, how it comes about, how it dies out, how it's avoided and how it's embraced.
As funny and light as these stories are- and they make for thoroughly enjoyable, easy reading- they're equally painful, bitter and tragic, very much about the passing of time and the longing for youth; but there's also a whimsical quality to Kundera's writing, a `what the hell' element. Kundera, as always, writes starkly and elegantly, offering insight into love through quite bare, straightforward words. A delight to read if Kundera is your cup of tea: I truly love him but of course he's not for everyone.