The Festival of Insignificance

By Martino, Andrew | World Literature Today, March/April 2016 | Go to article overview

The Festival of Insignificance


Martino, Andrew, World Literature Today


Milan Kundera. The Festival of Insignificance. Trans. Linda Asher. New York. Harper. 2015. 115 pages.

It has been thirteen years since Milan Kundera last published a novel. The Festival of Insignificance is Kundera's tenth novel and the fourth to be written in French. Although The Festival of Insignificance is the shortest of his last four novels, its theme may be the broadest. It's incredibly difficult to summarize the plot other than to say that it revolves around four men in contemporary Paris over the course of two days. The four men are at least in late middle age.

Like Kundera's nonfiction, The Festival of Insignificance is divided into seven parts. Each part orbits the lives of Alain, Ramon, D'Ardelo, and Charles. There are various minor characters who make appearances as well as a strange subplot featuring Joseph Stalin. The novel begins in June with Alain contemplating the exposed navels he spots on various women he sees while strolling through Paris. What follows is a postmodern meditation on the insignificance of life and the fact that our navels are signs that fundamentally tie us to our mothers.

The existential dilemma Kundera explores is not as finely tuned as in his previous work but is nonetheless resonant here. What the characters come to realize is that the navel is an unambiguous sign of humanness. Our individuality, the particular individuality of identity, gives way to the general. As Kundera's Alain exclaims: "The thighs, the breasts, the buttocks have a different shape on each woman. …

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