“Immortality” by Milan Kundera is one of my all-time favorites novels:
Challenging, witty, provoking, but most of all – absolutely brilliant writing; “Immortality” is a unique form of the novel. It’s the only book I can remember reading twice. Each time I walked away a changed person. It begins with a casual gesture of a woman to her swimming instructor. That gesture creates a character in the mind of Kundera whose own person story is wound together with that woman into a novel.
Death and immortality are at the core. They, “form an inseparable pair more perfect than Marx and Engels, Romeo and Juliet, Laurel and Hardy,” explains Kundera. To this he overlays a fascinating sub-story of Goethe and Hemingway. They meet in heaven and debate the reason for their fame. Is it their books or their own characters? “Instead of reading my books, they’re writing books about me,” Hemingway says. “That’s immortality,” replies Goethe. “Immortality means eternal trial.”
Kundera’s style of fiction is rare; Inspired by the philosophy of Nietzsche and the great (Kundera thinks the greatest) novelist Miguel de Cervantes, Kundera writes by layering the lives and loves of multiple third-person characters – essentially all figments of his imagination – with that of his own dialog, in the first person. What emerges is a beautifully rich array of interwoven stories spanning sometimes vastly different time periods. A result that is equal parts poetry with magic.
Here is one such passage, a sub-story within the main story, where Kundera’s own character is having a dinner conversation with a friend (Professor Avenarius). His friend asks:
“What are you writing about these days, anyway?”
“That’s impossible to recount.” [relies Kundera]
“What a pity.”
“Not at all. An advantage. The present era grabs everything that was written in order to transform it into films, TV programs, or cartoons. 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. If a person is still crazy enough to write novels nowadays and wants to protect them, he has to write them in a such a way that they cannot be adapted, in other words, in such a way that they cannot be retold.”
“When I heard you,” Professor Avenarius said uneasily, “I just hope that your novel won’t turn out to be a bore.”
“Do you think that everything that is not a mad chase after a final resolution is a bore? As you eat this wonderful duck, are you bored?” Are you rushing toward a goal? On the contrary, you want the duck to enter into you as slowly as possible and you never want its taste to end. A novel shouldn’t be like a bicycle race but like a banquet of many courses… I am really looking to Part 6 [of this novel]. A completely new character will enter the novel. And at the end of that part he will disappear without a trace. He causes nothing and leaves no effects. That is precisely what I like about him. Part 6 will be a novel within a novel, as well as the saddest erotic story I have ever written.”
This, I believe, illustrates the essence of Kundera’s craft. Tackling profound issues of human identity, while at the same time playing with ambiguity, paradox, and healthy doses of irony is his gift. Once, in an rare interview, Kundera explained, “The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead.”
Looking at the world through the eyes of a question, I truly believe, is an incredible skill! Kundera has mastered the art of the novel. If you enjoy reading, I strongly encourage you to read his novels. And “Immortality” is a excellent starting point.
If you would like to read this book, tell three people about my company’s latest project, WikiReader, and then send me an email. Before next week, I’ll chose a name from random, and send the winner my book.
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