Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera

The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera
Published June 2015 by Harper
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Casting light on the most serious of problems and at the same time saying not one serious sentence; being fascinated by the reality of the contemporary world and at the same time completely avoiding realism—that’s The Festival of Insignificance.

Now, far from watching out, Kundera is finally and fully realizing his old aesthetic dream in this novel, which we may easily view as a summation of his whole work. A strange sort of summation. Strange sort of epilogue. Strange sort of laughter, inspired by our time, which is comical because it has lost all sense of humor.

My Thoughts:
Apologies up front for not getting this review posted earlier - just wrapped up the book yesterday then had to head out for the evening and didn't get back in time to write my review.

Also, gotta apologize for rushing this book. It's thin, just 128 pages, and my tendency, unfortunately, is to assume that will mean a quick read. So I didn't allot myself nearly enough time to really read and think about what Kundera wrote. And this is a book that really wants you to think. So I'm not sure I got out of it all that I could have. Perhaps other stops on the TLC Book tour will offer you a better perspective.

I know of Kundera from the movie adaptation of his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being (starring the very young, very beautiful trio of Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, and Lena Olin) which I quite liked. So when this book came up for review, I assumed it would be something along the same lines. Perhaps it is in the same vein as that book, but I've never read that book so I can't say. What I can say is that this book feels entirely different from anything I've read before. It also feels entirely foreign; there is always something to translated works that I read that make me think that we just don't get it here in the U.S. Which is sort of the way I felt about this book. For a little book, filled with insignificance, it's chock full of big ideas. I'm just not sure I understood what Kundera was trying to say about all of those things - perhaps that all of those things that seem small in our days might just be very important? Or, buried in all of that mundane are really important moments? Or, perhaps, as this piece seems to be saying, there is insignificance everywhere - even in the biggest things?
"I wanted to talk to you about something. About the value of insignificance...Insignificance, my friend, is the essence of existence. It is present even when no one wants to see it: in atrocities, in bloody battles, in the worst disasters. It often takes courage to acknowledge it in such dramatic situations, and to call it by name. But it is not only a matter of acknowledging it, we must love insignificance, we must learn to love it."
The book follows a group of men in the space of a few days where very little happens other than the reader getting deeply into the heads of these men. But Kundera uses some interesting tools to make his points - a book about Nikita Khrushchev, for example, serves as a tool to illustrate points throughout. The seduction/seductiveness of women is also a recurring theme (go figure, a book about men where seduction plays a big role).
"The uselessness of brilliance - yes, I get it." "More than useless. It's harmful. when a brilliant fellow tries to seduce a woman, she has the sense she's entering a kind of competition. She feels obliged to shine too, to not give herself over without some resistance. Whereas insignificance sets her free. Spares her the need to vigilance. Requires no presence of mind. Makes her incautious, and thus more easily accessible."
Yeah, so, maybe I didn't entirely "get" it...but then maybe that was Kundera's purpose. Just to make readers think, to make them look at things in a different way. Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for offering me this chance to stretch my brain!

The Franco-Czech novelist Milan Kundera was born in Brno and has lived in France, his second homeland, since 1975. He is the author of the novels The Joke, Farewell Waltz, Life Is Elsewhere, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Immortality, and the short-story collection Laughable Loves—all originally written in Czech. His most recent novels Slowness, Identity, and Ignorance, as well as his nonfiction works The Art of the Novel, Testaments Betrayed, The Curtain, and Encounter, were originally written in French.

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