Life is no Žert

The JokeThe Joke by Milan Kundera

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In reality the opposite is true: everything will be forgotten and nothing will be redressed. The task of obtaining redress will be taken over by forgetting.

This philosophy, I may not know where it's from, is what Milan Kundera imparted in his first novel. The seven-part creation chronicles the Czech history and culture of more than a decade. Told in four viewpoints, we see the story of Ludvík, plotting a vangeance with his comrade (and previously, a friend, Zemanek). The Joke is not a satirical novel, but an ironic one, because as you read along you see yourself within the time and tide of the characters unfolded before your eyes.

It all started with the playful spirit of the scientist named Ludvík Jahn, sending a postcard with a political joke:
Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!

Using Trotskism as a political joke (a political philosophy adverse of the Czech communism of the time) branded Ludvík as the enemy of the party (thus ousted) and sent to the mines. This is the first Joke.

As you go with the pages you see the treatment of being branded, the suffering of working in the mines and their longing for individual freedom. We see Ludvík's encounter with the first love, Lucíe Sebetka, his sudden enstrangement with his musician friend Jaroslav, and his bitterness with fate and life by plotting a revenge against Zemanek - and his wife Helena.

What I loved with the novel is how Kundera unfolded the humanity of the four narrators - Ludvík, Helena, Kotska, and Jaroslav - by placing them in the Czechoslovakia situation as a backdrop. Perhaps the country is so full of history that these interweaving stories make it more vulnerable to the ironies of their times - on how one deals with the genuinity of the Moravian Folk music as a political movement, or of faithfulness to the Catholic faith in contrast with the Communist ideals.

In addition, Kundera intently placed the drama on how one's hatred controlled one's life, only be slammed by the irony that these contained feelings are simply forgotten by those who caused it; Or how one's indifference makes the other amorous and how one's amorous sentiments makes the other descend into abandonment.

This #laslasread, ended with a heart attack, is what Kundera bequeathed to his countrymen, that a sudden change is needed to the once sparkling glamour to the slowly decaying cynical society of his. I am not a Czech, but it clicked my interest on why the Prague Spring happened.

May it be the love story or the changing times of the Czech history, I hope you consider this heavy book a try. The book simply awakens your consciousness of the human spirit, and makes you ponder of the gravity of the Hands of Time and of the Wheels of Fate.

1. Trotsky is a leader of Red Army, during 1917 he was on Stalin's side until the Left Opposition and the Great Purge happened. He was assassinated by Stalin's men.
2. Moravian folk music was made as a party movement post-WW2 times.
3. Most of the Czechs today are atheists. Before half of the Czechoslovakia is of Catholic faith (rough estimate)
4. Pre-february (1948) is before the coup de etat, before Czechoslovakia became a Communist Government.
[gathered information from wikipedia.or]

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Kvöldvaka: The Meaning of Life

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind, and in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life up away from me in a grey wreath of smoke.

From that introduction you knew that the ending is not a happy one. Burial Rites, Hannah Kent's first novel, was quoted by other reviewers as her love letter to Iceland. As dark as a Gothic film, it pulls you back to the cold Northern Mountains, and thrusts you into the perspective of the main character named Agnes a woman convicted of a murder.

The book does not only contain the factual documents of the case, but also the ambiguous allusions from the first-person-perspective of the murderess, appealing for the reader's sympathy. Amalgamated with the melancholic tone of housework, farming, and kvöldvaka, Agnes recounts her life back from where she came from to the night the crime happened. Slow at first like the snowfall, and as wicked as the conspiracy of ravens, the reader searched for the same solace that Agnes longed all her life - for that soul-asylum - where she would find peace and tranquility.

What I liked about the book is how the author made Agnes so vulnerable, that I, as a reader, felt a pang of hurt that she is to be beheaded. She didn't deserve such punishment, she is misinterpreted as wicked just because she has the greater wisdom. Just like how people look at a raven - wicked, but intelligent.

I also love the unfolding of the household to where she stayed: the badstöfa, the fish and the cattle, the mundane hay harvest, and the knitting for the coming cold. These domestic backdrop served as a simple stage for the other characters who, at first, were aloof to her.

And you cannot just dismiss that love story -
"He needed me like I needed air."

This is one of those #laslasreads that shines so beautifully like the Aurora Borealis and gives you the chills like the coldest winter in Kornsá.

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She's Russian? Oh.

Anthem Anthem by Ayn Rand

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Dear Ayn Rand,

Welcome to your distant future. This is where I live, in a third-world nation full of egoistic businessmen and capitalist moguls. This is where your Unspeakable word came into life. Leaders seem to forget the essence of equality and fraternity and they converted it into crony . Commonality is dead here. There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor and some ordinary individuals wished to have a systen of communism - a day where the rich people (via passive income aka corruption) will experience long queues in a slowly decaying public train called MRT.

Your philosophy is good, but I don't buy it in here. I'm selling my current situation for you to see the downsides of your belief. So there. I hope I can see you in person and share some sentiments with you.

A reader in a 3rd-world,

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Codename Tutubi

Tutubi, Tutubi, 'Wag Kang Magpahuli sa Mamang SalbaheTutubi, Tutubi, 'Wag Kang Magpahuli sa Mamang Salbahe by Jun Cruz Reyes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was supposed to be a satirical outburst of the character named Jojo, a scholar in a State University relating to the few days after the declaration of Martial Law... but it ended with an unresolved question that none of the characters answered to conclude the story. It felt open-ended. It left me with more questions, actually.

The epilogue made me shed a tear. People are taught to forgive and forget, but the experience was too hurtful, it cut so deep, that even I, as a reader, find it hard to forgive whatever they did, and finally forget the horror it caused.

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