I really don't think Milan Kundera is an author for me. His characters are all so petty and cruel, so atomized and self-centered. I can deal with pettiness and cruelty being a theme of the book - but everyone? All the time?
And if he were trying to say something about life in a
country under a totalitarian regime, that might be one thing (although
I'm quite sure not all glimpses of humanity and kindness would entirely
disappear) but the outsider character is just as careless of others,
just as petty and distant.
Two characters come back to Budapest
after years of having lived in other countries, having put down roots
there. Irena and Josef meet, and she remembers him, while he only
pretends to remember her. The book travels through their experiences as
expatriates returning to a country they dislike.
No one in this
book listens to anyone else, and yet feels injured when the people
they're with don't pepper them with questions. Not willing to give, yet
bitter about not receiving. Some of the sections about the difficulty of
homecoming were interesting, but undercut by no one in the book having
any kind of self-awareness about this. The main character, Irena, is
simply irritated that everyone wants to tell her about their lives
instead of hanging on every word about hers. But there is no sense she
listens to them, either.
Memory is also a huge theme, but mostly
in the sense that people actively forget the times they've been mean,
in order to live with themselves.
This is a book about spaces,
gaps, not knowing each other. Everyone is constantly perceiving petty
slights, and going out of their way to inflict petty slights on others.
only character any other character seems to have actually connected
with on any deeper level is the dead one, so we don't really know what
that relationship was like. Ignorance is beyond pessimistic about human
nature - it seems to enjoy inflicting small wounds on everyone. All the
Not for me.