Laughable Loves

Overview

Milan Kundera is a master of graceful illusion and illuminating surprise. In one of these stories a young man and his girlfriend pretend that she is a stranger he picked up on the road--only to become strangers to each other in reality as their game proceeds. In another a teacher fakes piety in order to seduce a devout girl, then jilts her and yearns for God. In yet another girls wait in bars, on beaches, and on station platforms for the same lover, a middle-aged Don Juan who has gone home to his wife. Games, ...

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Overview

Milan Kundera is a master of graceful illusion and illuminating surprise. In one of these stories a young man and his girlfriend pretend that she is a stranger he picked up on the road--only to become strangers to each other in reality as their game proceeds. In another a teacher fakes piety in order to seduce a devout girl, then jilts her and yearns for God. In yet another girls wait in bars, on beaches, and on station platforms for the same lover, a middle-aged Don Juan who has gone home to his wife. Games, fantasies, and schemes abound in all the stories while different characters react in varying ways to the sudden release of erotic impulses.

Translated by Suzanne Rappaport; introduced by Philip Roth.

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Editorial Reviews

Paul Theroux
A magnificent short-story writer [whose] best humor always seems to be rooted in authority situations.
NY Times Book Review
Abe Ravitz
An intellectual heavyweight and a pure literary virtuoso, Milan Kundera takes some of Freud's most cherished complexes and irreverently whirls them about in acts of legerdemain that capture our darkest, deepest human passions. . . The tales in Laughable Loves surprise and illuminate. . . Kundera's world is complex, full of mockeries and paradoxes. Life is often brutal and humiliating; it is often blasphemous, funny, irritating.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Thomas Joyce
Milan Kundera offers a very special blend of sympathy and cynicism, irony and affability, that is unmatched in our literature.
Chicago Sun-Times
John Skow
Light, wry, and wise.
Time
Walter Clemons
Buoyantly energetic and virtuosic.
Newsweek
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060997038
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/1/1999
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: 1ST HARPER
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 659,497
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Milan Kundera

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.

Biography

For someone whom the world regards as a serious intellectual, Milan Kundera has a brilliantly twisted sense of humor. His novels depict a world of awkward orgies and disastrous pool parties, mad scientists and self-pitying poets who contract pneumonia out of spite. While Kundera's works tackle profound issues of human identity, they also playfully juggle ambiguities, ironies and paradoxes. "The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question," he said in a 1980 interview with Philip Roth. "There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead."

Kundera was born in Brno, Czechoslovkia in 1929. Like many young Czechs who had come of age during World War II and the German occupation, Kundera was attracted to Marxist philosophy, which seemed to promise a new freedom and peace. The first literary works he produced (three volumes of poetry and a play, The Owners of the Keys) were essentially Communist propaganda, though they didn't always conform to the tenets of socialist realism approved by the state. His resistance to the official restrictions on literature helped lead to his involvement with the "Prague Spring," the brief-lived reform movement toward "socialism with a human face."

During the '60s, Kundera began writing short stories, collected as Laughable Loves, which he would later identify as the beginning of his mature work. In several of them, jokes that start out as innocent pranks evolve into catastrophes for both perpetrator and victim -- they are deeds that, like the Czech version of Communism, have escaped the control of their creators. Kundera's first novel, The Joke, concerns a young man who is brought up on political charges after sending a teasing postcard to his girlfriend ("Optimism is the opium of the people!").

The Joke was published to wide acclaim shortly before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Following the invasion, Kundera was ousted from his film-studies teaching job, his books were pulled from libraries and bookstores, and he was forbidden to publish new work. He went on writing, however, and his novels Life Is Elsewhere and The Farewell Party were published outside his native country. Farcical and bleak, the novels developed what would become a recurring theme for Kundera, in which commitment to an abstract moral principle paves the way for corruption and evil.

In 1975, Kundera fled Czechoslovakia and settled in France, where he eventually became a citizen. His first book produced in exile, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, remains one of his most celebrated works, weaving together autobiographical reflections with a series of connected fictions. John Updike, writing in the New York Times, called it "brilliant and original, written with a purity and wit that invite us directly in; it is also strange, with a strangeness that locks us out." His next novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, also drew high praise, and the 1988 film version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche turned Kundera into something of a celebrity.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the political pressures that shaped his early life and works, Kundera has long insisted that the novel should be a work of art, not a political or ideological statement. By the '90s, Kundera had started to write his novels in French; he is now sometimes tagged a "Franco-Czech" author. His works are often described as "novels of ideas," but he resists the term "philosophical novel." As he said in an interview with Lois Oppenheim, "There are metaphysical problems, problems of human existence, that philosophy has never known how to grasp in all their concreteness and that only the novel can seize."

Good To Know

Kundera joined the Communist party while still in his teens, but was expelled in 1950 (an experience that helped inspire his 1967 novel The Joke). He was readmitted to the party in 1956, then expelled again in 1970.

Kundera's father played the piano, and Kundera himself studied music composition. He has often described his novels in musical terms as "polyphony," in which different voices are juxtaposed to build up a unified whole. As he told Philip Roth, the "various stories mutually explain, illumine, complement each other."

According to Kundera, there are four great European novelists: Franz Kafka, Hermann Broch, Robert Musil and Witold Gombrowicz. He has called the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal "our very best writer today."

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    1. Hometown:
      Paris, France
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 1, 1929
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brno, Czechoslovakia
    1. Education:
      Undergraduate degree in philosophy, Charles University, Prague, 1952

Read an Excerpt

Nobody Will Laugh

Chapter 1

"Pour me some more slivovitz," said Klara, and I wasn’t against it. It was hardly unusual for us to open a bottle, and this time there was a genuine excuse for it: that day I had received a nice fee from an art history review for a long essay.

Publishing the essay hadn’t been so easy—what I’d written was polemical and controversial. That’s why my essay had previously been rejected by Visual Arts, where the editors were old and cautious, and had then finally been published in a less important periodical, where the editors were younger and less reflective.

The mailman brought the payment to me at the university along with another letter, an unimportant letter; in the morning in the first flush of beatitude I had hardly read it. But now, at home, when it was approaching midnight and the bottle was nearly empty, I took it off the table to amuse us.

"Esteemed comrade and—if you will permit the expression—my colleague!" I read aloud to Klara. "Please excuse me, a man whom you have never met, for writing to you. I am turning to you with a request that you read the enclosed article. True, I do not know you, but I respect you as a man whose judgments, reflections, and conclusions astonish me by their agreement with the results of my own research; I am completely amazed by it. . . ." There followed greater praise of my merits and then a request: Would I kindly write a review of his article—that is, a specialist’s evaluation—for Visual Arts, which had been underestimating and rejecting his article for more than six months. People hadtold him that my opinion would be decisive, so now I had become the writer’s only hope, a single light in otherwise total darkness.

We made fun of Mr. Zaturecky, whose aristocratic name fascinated us; but it was just fun, fun that meant no harm, for the praise he had lavished on me, along with the excellent slivovitz, softened me. It softened me so much that in those unforgettable moments I loved the whole world. And because at that moment I didn’t have anything to reward the world with, I rewarded Klara. At least with promises.

Klara was a twenty-year-old girl from a good family. What am I saying, from a good family? From an excellent family! Her father had been a bank manager, and around 1950, as a representative of the upper bourgeoisie, was exiled to the village of Celakovice, some distance from Prague. As a result his daughter’s party record was bad, and she had to work as a seamstress in a large Prague dressmaking establishment. I was now sitting opposite this beautiful seamstress and trying to make her like me more by telling her lightheartedly about the advantages of a job I’d promised to get her through connections. I assured her that it was absurd for such a pretty girl to lose her beauty at a sewing machine, and I decided that she should become a model.

Klara didn’t object, and we spent the night in happy understanding.

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