I’m running way behind on my book reviews, and that’s really okay. I figure I’ll keep the book reviews sparse because while most people like to read, they also have plenty of books they want to read before whatever book I’m reviewing. So, don’t feel like you have to read what I read; however, if you ever wonder if a given book is good, I write these little reviews for that purpose.
The best work I read in last semester’s postmodernism class was Milan Kundera‘s Immortality. If you know anything about postmodern fiction, you are in the vast minority (rimshot!). Pomo fiction is very scattered, usually without a throughline or major narrative, often featuring self-conscious writing (by which I mean the author maintains no illusion that the story is its own reality and squi frequently addresses the reader or calls attention to the writing process), etc. Immortality fits in that mode of fiction, but somehow (perhaps accidentally?) Kundera still manages to explore life meaningfully, a truly damning accusation for a postmodern writer. 🙂
The novel flows through seven parts, some related to each other and some not. But there are so many fascinating issues that Kundera explores. I know I love this book because there are underlined passages everywhere. Perhaps rather than giving you a review proper, I’ll just cite some passages completely out of context.
“‘But if you have two hundred and twenty-three faces side by side, you suddenly realize that it’s all just one face in many variations and that no such thing as an individual ever existed'” (35).
“The whole art of politics these days lies not in running the polis (which runs itself by the logic of its own dark and uncontrollable mechanism), but in thinking up ‘sound bites’ by which the politician is seen and understood” (57).
“Man reckons with immortality, and forgets to reckon with death” (78).
“[W]hen Marxism became known and powerful on the whole planet, all that was left of it was a collection of six or seven slogans so poorly linked that it can hardly be called an ideology” (117).
“I feel therefore I am is a truth much more universally valid, and it applies to everything that’s alive” (205).
“‘What is essential in a novel is precisely what can only be expressed in a novel, and so every adaptation contains nothing but the nonessential” (243).
“The road had disappeared, but it remained in the souls of painters in the form of an inextinguishable desire to ‘go forward.’ But where is ‘forward’ when there is no longer any road?” (297).
I could go on. Kundera manages multiple narratives and intertwines them while balancing aphorisms and postmodern despair, yet he still inserts a good amount of humor and characterization. It’s truly an achievement. He discusses aesthetics, literature, politics, imagology, romance, death, history and plenty of other things. It’s a broad book that manages depth in spots. The narrative parts are enjoyable, the dialogue is frequently great, the mini-plots are all interesting. Sure, if you’re looking for a big truth or explanation of life, you won’t find it here; but you will find an insightful, well-written novel.
Oh, I should add that Hemingway is a character in one section of the book (in heaven), and you all know that Hemingway’s my boy.
I read the Peter Kussi translation (very good); Kundera penned the novel in Czech. If you have the time, you won’t regret this read. 9.1/10, A.