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The Festival of Insignificance

Books & Poetry

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In Milan Kundera’s first book in more than a decade, the author, blatantly self-aware, introduces his readers to four of his friends he hopes we’ll enjoy.

Alain is having hallucinations. The mother who left him when he was a child speaks to him from a photograph, and this at a crucial time when he is contemplating the eroticism of the navel while having an affair with a woman more than half his age.

Charles and Caliban work as caterers for the ritzier folk of Paris, speaking a made-up form of Pakistani to amuse themselves, though they’d rather be putting on plays about Joseph Stalin killing partridges.

Ramon is considering the eventual death of an acquaintance and musing over the concept of insignificance.

Did I enjoy these friends of Kundera’s? I did. I enjoyed everything about this book.

The Festival of Insignificance, by Milan Kundera, Faber Fiction, $24.99

The Festival of Insignificance, by Milan Kundera, Faber Fiction, $24.99

The Festival of Insignificance is a thin book – one might even go so far as to think of it as a novella – but huge in its scope, and therein lies one of the joys of the novel. In classic Kundera style – sly humour, political satire, tragedy-driven celebrations of life – the author has managed, with very few words, to capture what we might deem as a significant moment in history and relate it to our own times, to our own selves, so that we may question what it is that makes us tick. In this case, it is the beauty of being insignificant and the splendour of each irrelevant event that fills our every day.

Narrated in his usual metafictive style, in which the author speaks directly to his audience about his characters, ensuring his readers that he is aware this novel-writing business is all about imagination and story-telling, The Festival of Insignificance fits perfectly with Kundera’s oeuvre.

As with his previous books, this one is grounded in a critique of totalitarianism under Russia’s communistic regime, the same which overtook his native Czechoslovakia, forcing Kundera into a self-imposed exile in 1975.

Also similar to his other novels, The Festival of Insignificance maintains its place as a literature of philosophy, bearing the heavy-minded, though his approach is light-hearted, and the title speaks for itself (previous titles include The Joke, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Immortality and Identity).

To say this is one of his best books is to forget that each of his past novels has a brilliance about them that stand up to his other works and stand apart from his peers, but, for the moment, it is my favourite. Fans of Kundera – this is it! For all the rest out there – what are you waiting for?

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