Farewell Waltz by Milan Kundera and how I waltzed my way through it
6 months ago Shaili Desai 1
I finished reading Farewell Waltz by Milan Kundera yesterday night. Now, I have dozed off while reading this book on numerous occasions and this is what happened yesterday also, as I was trying to race my sleep to the finish. Unfortunately, my sleep got the better of me and I think I dozed off when five pages were left. I awoke with a start at 1 am, finished the rest of the book and went to sleep with a deep satisfaction, of having finally finished reading. Quite frankly, I have been struggling to finish this since a month and no, this is not the fault of the book or the author. Both, my general mood lately and my treatment of this book have been undeserving and unfair, for a writer of Kundera’s calibre. This was definitely not a waltz, although I am fairly nonchalant about bidding farewell.
This is not the first book which Milan Kundera has written. This is also not the first book that I have read, from this author. I remember reading ‘Laughable Loves’ a long time back. I had to search the list of books written by Kundera to remember the title. And then I got confused for a second, was it ‘Laughable Loves’ that I’d read, or was it ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. It took me a while to be sure (I googled the book covers, just to confirm, such is the sorry state of my poor mind – feels like a travesty). I also tried to remember what that book made me feel – I guess I was trying to compare both my experiences. All I could remember was that, somehow, ‘Laughable Loves’ had left me with a better feeling, a feeling of somewhere some profundity hitting me, at the right places. I guess I was subconsciously looking for the same experience to be repeated, when I picked this up from The Oxford Bookstore at Connaught Place. When you’ve enjoyed one book borne by an author, you tend to have greater expectations, from another child of theirs, don’t you?
‘Farewell Waltz’, on the other hand, leaves me with no feeling. It’s not that Kundera says nothing intelligent, or that it’s badly written. It is good writing that should have hit me; however I was disaffected, largely due to the treatment of the female characters in the book, I think. That overshadowed the good feelings that I may have received at many places in the book, leaving me nonchalant.
Kamila, Olga and most importantly Ruzena, who is one of the main characters and whose behaviour accounts for most of the plot and the story line, are reduced to comic figures. It’s not that the men aren’t. They are equally absurd. The book essentially points out the absurdity in human nature, using the characters who are all archetypes of one kind or the other. However, I do not know why that irked me – the reduction of the female characters. Perhaps because of the stark nature in which it reminds you of the weaknesses of female minds – and no, this is in no way related to their ability to do math or design a rocket – it’s more to do with how we think with our emotions, of how beauty as a standard is still so important for us to feel better, or how we look at male attention as a measure of our worth, also how that is used as a manipulation tool, both sincerely and insincerely, by men and women alike.
The book is also a caricature on how men react to situations. Klima, Skreta, Bertlef and Jakub – they are all experts at manipulation. And they all have their own justification for the things they do – right or wrong, whether it be having a one night stand, cheating on their wife, or slipping poison into somebody’s medicine box, even if by accident. They are all vain men, especially Bertlef and Jakub. While Bertlef is overtly vain, Jakub is vain under the surface, placing too much importance on the reason for his presence on planet earth. I did like how Kundera nullifies his ego, which is tragic, because he seeks to do the same by making him feel as he was meant to feel that way, deeply satisfying his ego in some perverse manner, at the same time. However, at the end of it, while it may have been a happy ending for mostly everybody except Ruzena, Jakub seems to be only other loser in the whole situation.
Overall, I do think that I could have read this book with greater attention and more enthusiasm. However, not my fault, if it failed to create the same in me. Dissatisfaction with a book is similar to feelings left in you after a failed relationship. You can only blame yourself for it till some time, after a point, you realize how some things just aren’t meant to be!
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