Please explain one of the themes The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" and how it relates to the book as a whole.i

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The theme of memory is an important element in Kundera's work. At some level, each character deals with the paradox that Kundera articulates in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  Simply put, Kundera believes that memory is a cursed component of consciousness.  He suggests that the memories of tenderness and beauty are fleeting for they enter our minds and we struggle to recreate these memories, only to find that in doing so, we actually lose more of them.  Similar to placing one's hand in a vat of honey, our memories of tenderness seem to be in our mind, but when our consciousness seeks to hold them firmly, aspects of them slip through our grasp until inevitably nothing of them remain.  Contrast this with the memories of revulsion which we desperately seek to forget.  Ironically, as we struggle to forget them, we actuall remember them and make their presence in our consciousness even more embedded.  This means that the memories of revulsion end up being much stronger than the memories of tenderness.  Memory, thus, as a conceptual theme, is a part of our consciousness that is unaviodable in its agony, its pain, or what Kundera will call, its sense of litost.  It is this condition that reminds us of our human state and while we try to escape it, the force of its gravity is strong enough to weight our consciousness, pinning us underneath its burden.

This predicament of memory is seen to a great extent in all of the characters in Kundera's work, but can be best seen in Mirek and Tamina.  Mirek seeks to embark on a fruitless quest to reclaim his correspondence to his former lover.  In the process, Mirek ends up reliving those moments he seeks to forget, and falsely believes that in trying to reclaim the letters, he can actually erase these memories.  Through his depiction, Kundera revivifies his theme that those awfully embarrasing and painful memories of our past will never leave us, akin to a shadow always following us regardless of weather.  Tamina, who is Kundera's most tragic and most beloved character, lives out the idea that her memories can be reclaimed in the hopes of lightening the dreaded pain of living. Seeking to resurrect the positive memories of her deceased husband, Tamina, like Kundera in being an exile of the Czech Republic, seeks to claim his notebooks and writings.  In the proces, she places her trust in a young student, who violates her trust, her body, and her spirit.  As she is being sexually assaulted by the student, she realizes that not only is she being violated, but the memories of her husband are being replaced by the sexual violation with the student for she only involved herself with him through the motivation of the memories of tenderness.  In Tamina's predicament, the theme of memory becomes hauntingly inescapable; every act of our own mental creation seems to bring us one step closer to mental degradation and destruction.

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