Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Unbearable Heaviness of Baking Cake

Sunday afternoon was my meeting with my book club.  I really need to remember to take pictures while we're all there.  Grrr.  Next time!  We read "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera, and we had a little afternoon tea to go with it. There were cucumber sandwiches, chicken salad and both hot and iced tea.  In keeping with the spirit of the tea party, I made tea bag cookies and petit fours.  It was a LOT of work, but they were very yummy. 

I found out about the tea bag cookies from a post on Book Journey's blog, and they were so cute I had to make them.  I followed the link from her blog and found this blog, which describes how to make them.  In French.  I speak French, but not well enough to follow a recipe in it!  Google translate helped some, but not really.  In any event, the pictures were enough to give me an idea what to do, and I just used some sugar cookie dough I had in my freezer, and dipped the cookies in semi-sweet chocolate.  They turned out cute and tasty, so I'm pretty pleased. 

I also made petit fours.  They took the most time, and I actually burned one of the cakes I was making.  I don't think I've ever actually burned a cake before.  The frosting was sort of a fiasco and in the end they looked more like cake with candle wax dripped all over them than the pretty little petit fours I had envisioned, but they were really good.  That's lemon cake with raspberry filling.  I had to bring the leftovers to work so that I wouldn't eat all of them. 

Oh, did you say this is a book blog and not a baking blog? Ok.  Here are my thoughts after meeting with everyone - for once I really didn't change my mind a whole lot after talking with the group.   

It's difficult to create a synopsis for this book, because there's not a lot of plot.  Still, so much happens!  Oh sweet irony.  There is the central love story between Tereza and Tomas.  Then there's a sort of side love story - Sabina and Franz.  Sabina and Tomas were also lovers, by the way.  Tomas, obviously, is a womanizer.  He loves Tereza, and he is able to separate that love from the physical enjoyment he gets from his encounters with other women.  Unfortunately for Tereza, she is not able to separate it, and his philandering causes her a lot of distress and really strange nightmares.   

Meanwhile, the relationship between Sabina and Franz is sort of converse - with Franz having all the feelings and Sabina unable to fully give her heart to Franz (or anyone else for that matter).  Sabina is an artist, and Franz is an intellectual and a professor.  He's also married.  Eventually he screws up the courage to tell his socialite wife that he's been hooking up with a sexy artist, and he's going to go shack up with her.  When Sabina finds out he left his wife for her, she has wild, passionate sex with Franz one last time and then disappears and moves to the US.  Franz is crushed, but then moves in with some grad student who wears giant glasses. 

This book is more of a portrait of the lives of these people, rather than a story.  And those lives are basically there just as something over which Milan Kundera can drape his philosophy.  The philosophy is really the reason to read the book - it's so interesting and quotable.  And if I had to come up with a theme for the book, it's balance.  The couples are kind of extremes, and they sort of balance each other out.  There are all these contrasting ideas - strength/weakness, lightness/heaviness - and which one is better than the other just depends on your perspective.  Strength is not always better than weakness, and being weak doesn't always mean you're the victim.  Take those traditional ideas that have been put into your head and banish them from whence they came!!! 

The real star of this book is language.  Milan Kundera is Czech, but he has lived in France since 1975.  This novel was originally written in Czech, and then translated into French.  It was first published in French in 1984, and then in its original Czech a year later, when it was also translated into English.  The translation I read was so beautiful, though, I had to keep reminding myself that it was a translation.  The author uses language to explain and clarify, but it's also something more than a tool.  It's how we understand the world, and how we understand each other.  If we understand life in different ways, then we speak a different language - just like Sabina and Franz.  

I'm going to end this post with some of my favorite quotes from this book, which will do a whole lot more towards convincing you to read this book than I ever could.  But you should read it.  

"There is no particular merit in being nice to one's fellow man. ... Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals" 

"Looking out over the courtyard at the dirty walls, he realized he had no idea whether it was hysteria or love." 

"If [God] had a mouth, He had to eat.  And if He ate, He had intestines.  But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious.  ... Thus [I] came to question the basic thesis of Christian anthropology, namely, that man was created in God's image.  Either/or: either man was created in God's image - and God has intestines! - or God lacks intestines and man is not like Him."  

"When we want to give expression to a dramatic situation in our lives, we tend to use metaphors of heaviness.  We say that something has become a great burden to us. ... And Sabina - what had come over her?  Nothing. She had left a man because she felt like leaving him.  Had he persecuted her? Had he tried to take revenge on her? No. Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness.  What fell to her lot was not the burden but the unbearable lightness of being." 

I'm not entirely sure this qualifies as a classic, because it wasn't published until the mid 1980s.  BUT, I'm sort of behind on my challenges, and I had the impression this was a classic when I started it.  I'm not going to link this up to my classics challenge post yet, because if I read enough other stuff, I won't count it.  

It does count, however, for my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die Challenge. Yay!    

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