I should say up front that I haven’t read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and it sounds like I’m probably the only one. Books read differently, though – I’ve read several by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and they are such separate animals that it felt like reading whole new authors. In any case, for a quick and exceptionally thought-provoking read, I’d heartily recommend that people try Laughable Loves by Milan Kundera.
The book is rewarding in the ways that it obliges you to confront things you might not otherwise think about. Just like an author like Stephen King takes a seed of an idea and expands it into the horrific, Kundera finds the smallest aspects of relationships as his “what if” departure point, then explores what would happen if those fleeting thoughts became the central point in a real emotional experience. “The Hitchhiking Game” is an excellent example — a man and his girlfriend embark on vacation and on the first day, he stops for gas. Flippantly, she starts walking down the road and he stops to pick her up as if she is a hitchhiker. Treating one another as if they are strangers, they become trapped by events, forced to see each other completely anew. If they had been actual strangers, the could walk away as soon as things became uncomfortable, but instead, they play things out with someone they don’t know anymore.
“Eduard and God” is another good example. A young man in Communist Czechoslovakia likes a religious girl and pretends belief in the Diety to win her physical favors, but the same gets him in trouble with the administration at the school where he teaches. Watching him navigate and deepen his lie.
Notalgia, jealousy, the nature and consequence of lying, questions of what is “serious” in life – Kundera tackles different aspects of relationships in varying levels of depth, but always with ingenuity and a quality of writing that makes me want to learn Czech so I can read them in the original. And don’t read these stories expecting comedy – the results of every one are tragic. After finishing the collection, I was left with a wonderful feeling that I’d explored corners of the human experience that hadn’t occurred to me before. Even more, I felt like he’d shared seven ideas with me and I’d walked away with 14 more.