Discussion Diary: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

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by Grant Cherwenuk, staff member and rookie book club member

I had been eagerly anticipating this moment, a book club meeting on a novel I hated. The object of my distaste was Milan Kundera’s “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.”  It is a highly respected, semi-autobiographical, fictional work that gave westerners a view inside the Soviet Bloc, but to me seemed an immature treatise on the human condition.  Was it possible for me to have a good discussion about something I was obviously biased against?

A discussion among fellow readers brought the book to life in a different way. When discussed, the books’ ideas were elevated to a perspective that we couldn’t gain when reading alone, lost in our own worlds.  The meeting’s conversation was messy, wide ranging, and almost nobody agreed on anything – it was eerily similar to what Kundera seems to say about life throughout his short stories. Don’t mistake the discussion for a pretentious debate on themes invented for the sake of argument either, the soul of the book is retained.

Nothing’s changed in my feelings for this book, I still don’t like it, but what has changed is that I don’t blindly detest it through the haze of my own bias. Thanks to some thoughtful opinions from different readers I understand the book more clearly, and most importantly, I respect it.