Winter Book Club is almost over! As you probably know, this online version of book club mirrors the in-person get together we have every season. Real friends in real life get together to talk about a book. It’s incredible and I look forward to this night for months.
Earlier this season was our in-person book club when we digested the powerful prose of Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. At a typical book club, we print off discussion questions and cut them up and put them in a bowl, a wine glass, or beer stern.
We pass the bowl around and everyone reads one question. We discuss each question in depth until we feel we’ve exhausted the different angles and everyone who wants to contribute has a chance to.
There are always more questions left in the bowl than we have time or mental energy for, but the questions keep us centered on the book. The tangents, though, are the life and blood of any book club. Everyone speaks to the question, the book, and their interpretation from their own experience and different walks of life.
If you’re reading the novel with us, then you know it’s set in Prague. We began the night by asking if anyone had experience living in Eastern Europe. Surprisingly half of the attendees had and could speak to it in some way. This book questions the social norms in place in every culture, so each person’s international travel and experience on any continent brought something unique to the table.
I’ll admit this novel, if you can call it that, was not easy to discuss. Not only are the themes and concepts difficult to read and challenging to think through, remembering the names of characters in each of the seven quasi-related narratives also presents a challenge.
Across the board, we were all thankful for having read it. We found it powerful and moving, and terribly sad and important. Once you finish it, you’ll understand this kaleidoscope of emotions.
Here are the first few discussion questions to help you think through the novel’s themes. You can use these to frame your own thoughts and writing on the novel or use them in your own book club.
- The opening illustration discusses the way a country’s history was changed with the erasure of a man in a photograph. What does this say about the fragility of memory in life and politics?
- The gaze is mentioned multiple times throughout the book. What effect does the eyes of another person viewing a character’s actions, behaviors, or letters have on each character?
- Many characters in the novel form a kind of alliance or inner circle that is penetrated by someone outside of that circle. What might this say about the strength of that circle and what it represents?
Here is a printable version of these and the rest of the questions that framed our book club discussion and a few others that I pondered after our meeting. Remember we’d love to have you write on the book and link your blog post to our book club page.
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Jessica S. Manuel earned her B.A. in English with an emphasis in Critical Theory and a minor in Theological Studies from The Master’s University. She went on to earn her M.A. in English (Literature) from San Francisco State University where she studied 19th-20th Century Literature with a special studies emphasis in Critical Theory. After examining the intersections of psychoanalysis and contemporary literature, she wrote her thesis on Haruki Murakami’s use of the unconscious in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. After finishing her degree, she continued her education at University of California, San Diego where she studied Teaching Adult Learners and literature. She offers online adult literature courses for life-long learners through Book Oblivion Academy and also teaches writing and literature courses at the college level.