Tag Archives: Women

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

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The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
Milan Kundera
Kniha Smichu a Zapomneni (1978)
Le Livre du Rire at de L’oubli (1979)
Translated from Czech by Michael Henry Heim (1982)
Faber and Faber (1992)

 

So much of Milan Kundera’s writing in “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” is exceptionally self-aware of his role as a writer. More so than perhaps the content of his book, I was struck with the layers of perception which filter through its structure. Interspersed with the poetic and incredibly fragile vignettes which expound on the themes of memory and laughter, is a consistent stream of conscious elaboration of the nature and form of literature. I can’t say that I know much about re-explaining or reconceptualising something said with undeniable poetry and feeling, but I do know how to see the layers between the phrases and to uncover some of what builds to their meaning. In the case of Kundera, even they layering of his structure is poetic. So if we take what Kundera himself says, that the book is a form of variations all leading to one intangible yet synthetic whole, then each of the characters are but constellations of separate universes. Tamina revolves in and around a certain memory of herself and her home, filtering through shared wavelengths but never touching the worlds of Mirek and Marketa. Often in this book, it appears more like the stories are woven apart rather than together.

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Americanah

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 9.23.55 PMAmericanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (2013)
4th Estate, Great Britain (2017)

“She felt his words like a melody and she felt herself breathing unevenly, gulping at the air. She would not cry, it was ridiculous to cry after so long, but her eyes were filling with tears and there was a boulder in her chest and a stinging in her throat. The tears felt itchy. She made no sound. He took her hand in his, both clasped on the table, and between them silence grew, an ancient silence that they both knew. She was inside this silence and she was safe.” (439)

It felt like the whole book was leading to this moment, in Chapter 52, when Obnize and Ifemelu are to be together once again. They have both travelled so far, both in distance and in spirit, only to be reunited for this chapter. In what Adiche dexterously describes in the matter of a few moments, they are able to travel together through all of the layers of one another’s lives which they have missed. Within seconds of their second conversation, held now in Ifemelu’s lounge room, Obnize brings their relationship out of shared or separate memories into the present, into the very nowness of their bond, “I spent the morning reading The Small Redemptions of Lagos. Scouring it, actually,” he said.” (435) Next they tumble through the painful loss of his mother and the disatisfaction of his marriage, all amongst the backdrop of a discussion of architecture, obligations tied to identity, and the courting rituals of the peacocks upon the roof of a neighbouring building. Finally, the painful truth of Ifem’s sexual assault is unwoven and laid bare through the power of speech, only to be taken up gently into a new fold of intimacy on which their bond is founded. Each of the parts of “Americanah” structurally echo the distance between Obnize and Ifemelu, from from the moment they part, till Part 7, in which Chapter 52 is situated, they never figure in the same section. Almost as an alignment of the fabric of their existence, their parts are able to come together once again. Fittingly then, does the chapter commence with an image suitable to this collision of worlds, “There was a moment, a caving of the blue sky”. (427) Although not the technical conclusion to the book, Chapter 52 makes up the end of Ifemelu and Obnize’s long voyage back home.

The Story of a New Name

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 8.58.43 PMElena Ferrante
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Book Two: The Neopolitan Novels
Text Publishing Melbourne Australia (2012), 2015

All through the reading of this book I was struck with an unrelenting and repetitious questioning of the identity of the possible Lila in my own life. Is she the great friend I had who never let me down but for whom I had such high hopes? Each of which were never actualised but rather exposed as superfluous in contrast to the deep reality of her daily life? Or rather is she found in anyone for whom we have respect? Then, is it Lenù herself which is the real Lila? Never fully realising her own strengths and living in the imperturbable shadow of a creation of her own imagination. But as a I read on, I became more and more convinced that neither Lila nor Lenù can represent one single person, they are only real in the reflection which they project on one another. Lila would be nothing without the weight placed on her by the fatal expectations of her friend Lenù. Just the same as Lenu is nothing but that which she has built from her own enforced comparison with Lila. It is not a question of them needing one another, rather that they simply do not exist as separate entities.