The significance of insignificance {The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera}


The significance of insignificance.

About The Festival of Insignificance by Milan KunderaCasting light on the most serious of problems and at the same time saying not one serious sentence; being fascinated by the reality of the contemporary world and at the same time completely avoiding realism—that’s The Festival of Insignificance. Readers who know Milan Kundera’s earlier books know that the wish to incorporate an element of the “unserious” in a novel is not at all unexpected of him. In Immortality, Goethe and Hemingway stroll through several chapters together talking and laughing. And in Slowness, Vera, the author’s wife, says to her husband: “you’ve often told me you meant to write a book one day that would have not a single serious word in it…I warn you: watch out. Your enemies are lying in wait.”

Now, far from watching out, Kundera is finally and fully realizing his old aesthetic dream in this novel that we could easily view as a summation of his whole work. A strange sort of summation. Strange sort of epilogue. Strange sort of laughter, inspired by our time, which is comical because it has lost all sense of humor. What more can we say? Nothing. Just read.

My two cents

I still remember when I read (devoured) my first Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I was already a huge Gabriel Garcia Marquez fan but was averse to spending money on books (because I didn't have any). But I wanted to take a leap of faith with my reading choices and I was fixated on Kundera because of that first read. It was a challenging read about how love, sex and life can just be, a stark contrast to my exposure to these ideas saddled with overthinking, sin and guilt. Later I learned the philosophical underpinnings were so much more involved; I only read it for the story and how I enjoyed pondering on things I'd never really thought about. I bought and enjoyed Immortality with the same spirit. Then I stopped.

Until I saw TLC's new line-up. Milan Kundera with a new book? I pounced.

In The Festival of Insignificance, I thought that Kundera was genius to be able to pack so much into a slim volume (only 115 pages!). The book is divided into six sections, which I initially felt read like short stories or merely vignettes until I realized all of it was connected in some manner. He muses upon some of the most mundane and the most absurd things but presents them in an entirely different light so the reader ends up scrutinizing their significance in the human mind and in human existence.

Imagine me with my eyebrow up as I'm opening the book up and reading the first section's title and first line:

Alain Meditates on the Navel

It was the month of June, the morning sun was emerging from the clouds, and Alain was walking slowly down a Paris street. He observed the young girls, who—every one of them—showed her naked navel between trousers belted very low and a T-shirt cut very short. He was captivated; captivated and disturbed: It was as if their seductive power no longer resided in their thighs, their buttocks, or their breasts, but in the small round hole located in the center of the body.
- p. 3 (ARC, page may change) 

He goes on to expound on what all men have thought about (and women have known) for millennia: women, sex, and power. This is about a page and a half.

***

Set in Paris with an all-male cast of friends simply living out their lives, this is mundane, meaty, thought provoking, and brief. I'm all over it. I think the beginning is a perfect example of what to expect from the book. It feels silly to be thinking about navels ... but when was the last time you thought about navels? This delves into other such silliness but always comes up with challenging ways of exploring and thinking about serious subjects.

Consider: Illness, cancer and death. The power of a ridiculous lie. Parenthood, filial love or lack thereof, and self-identity. Race, stereotyping, language and its dynamic in society. Politics (there's a whole section about Stalin). Philosophy. Art and beauty. Life.

Before you think that this is one of those weird, unstructured, stream-of-consciousness books, let me say, that yes, it is. But that's precisely what I like about it. There are books that are meant to be tight and have a beautiful plot that plays itself out to perfection; this is not it.

This book is unconventional, surprising, slightly snide, but with plenty of hidden gems. Best read tongue in cheek. Don't take it too seriously. Don't even think twice if you want to go "Bah, rubbish" or start laughing at how silly things seem. Go with it. React. Disagree even. Scratch your head if needed. But ponder and you'll realize that there is so much more to Kundera's absurdity.

I can't claim to understand Kundera's intentions but I always find his books thought provoking, challenging, and open to a reader's personal interpretations. This is no different. Hopefully you'll find some significance in Kundera's little festival of insignificance.

There is but one thing certain: the book is short, but it's a lovely journey of a read. Kundera can take me along anytime.

P.S. I swoon at the sight of the Picasso-ish cover. Now I want all the books in this series!


Milan KunderaAbout 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.


I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in order to participate in this tour with an honest review. Don't forget to check out the rest of the tour here






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