The Festival of Insignificance, Milan Kundera, performed by Richmond Hoxie, translated from the French, by Linda Asher.
This strange and brief little book is about a short time in the lives of a group of friends, Alain, Ramon, Charles and Caliban, as they plan a cocktail party for another friend, D’Ardelo, who has told them he is dying of Cancer. Each of the characters has his own particular issues to deal with which reveal themselves as the scenes evolve. At one point, I thought perhaps the tale was actually, in the end, a performance of a play, but instead, it was each character playing his own part, deciding on his own role.
Alain, was abandoned by his mother. He imagines conversations with her. Ramon is dealing with aging. He is also dealing with a mother who is about to abandon him, by dying, Charles gives Caliban work as a waiter and encourages his fantasies and performances. Caliban pretends to be Pakistani to fulfill his need to act, since he is currently unemployed. Alain contemplates the idea of a woman’s navel becoming the new seat of eroticism, and yet, it is not the seat of birth and the continuation of life. D’ardelo is pretending to be dying because a man who recently passed away was getting all the attention. A widow grieves briefly and is congratulated for her ability to love live so much that she can recover so quickly from her loss and go on, attending parties, even with eyes red from crying.
It is a spoof on life, I think, and although the author says existence is insignificant, ironically, each of the characters seeks to make his own existence worthy of notice, in some way, and in essence, with the talk of sex, sickness, angels, sorrow, and surviving as best as one can, under whatever circumstances one finds oneself, it seemed to be more profound than it pretended to be. There seemed to be many incongruous explanations and tales, but they really concerned themselves with significant subjects like life and death, success and failure, good health and illness. The stories about Stalin had greater hidden meaning, Alain’s fantasies about his missing mother were thought provoking. Who was the boy she drowned? Was it Alain? Can he make peace with her memory? The conversations between two characters, each speaking in a language not understood by the other, were humorous but also poignant because they were both so needy that the sound of the sympathy in their voices was enough to sustain them. The irony is that the insignificant was truly very significant. All of the characters seemed a bit detached from reality which is probably why they were searching for ways to achieve happiness and contentment, to find meaning for their very existence, because we all pass through life briefly, pass out of everyone’s memory eventually, and leave no lasting mark unless we find a way to make our moment in time the essence of significance.
The narrator provided a perfectly nuanced interpretation of the book, using just the right amount of emphasis for each situation to make its meaning clear.