Hot tea steaming in the pot, chocolate cake on offer as the book club participants step through the door of Massolit, one after the other. They select armchairs and chairs in the back room. Overcrowded bookshelves cover the walls up to the ceiling, with a good selection of second-hand English volumes.

Some people are looking around with a smile but are somewhat embarrassed, since almost everyone here is a stranger. Others are already chit-chatting, perhaps to warm up for the upcoming discussion.

Rita Gallo, the Book Club organiser and a Hungarian, opens the meeting at 6pm sharp.

Anyone can join in who would like to discuss their readings in English. This time they are talking about Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". Gallo warns: "Spoiler alarm for everyone who has not read the book yet." Whispers are heard all over the room and then a brunette with glasses starts laughing. Everyone looks at her. She says she has not read the book but is hoping the conversation will inspire her to do so ...

Everybody laughs again. The ice is broken. Following a short round of introductions, it is evident how different the motivations of every participant are.

The brunette introduces herself: she comes from Greece and works as a translator. Next up is an Italian who would like to learn to read faster via the book club. He needed months or even years to finish a book when he was a teenager. A British engineer thinks it's a pity that he reads so little. He is hoping that being in the book club will remedy the situation.

A Brazilian says she is only 16 years old and did not understand the Kundera novel. A citizen of Venezuela tells us that this is his absolute favourite book. A Czech student says she never participated at such a book club before, having thought the idea was nothing more than a cliché from American films, where bored housewives got together to engage in such things.

The English-speaking Budapest Book Club was started in November 2018 by Gallo and an Australian, Tegan Cohen. The latter had already tried to start such a club, and she was contacted by Gallo, who had the same idea, on Facebook. The two women got together and started organising the meetings at Massolit Books & Café.

Food for the soul

The book club turns to its main subject: Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", published in 1982. The novel is set in communist-occupied Czechoslovakia and tells the exciting history of two very different couples.

The conversation quickly gets to the main point of the book. There is some agreement that Kundera is advocating by his novel resisting the temptation to try and find the sense of life. A participant, who has already attended several meetings, throws in: "Life is simple sometimes, and somehow it isn't." He says: "If Kundera was a young author today, he would definitely write a blog and reach a much wider audience than the one he managed to reach with this book."

Some of the participants nod and after some time everybody starts talking at once. They all have a different perspective on the book. Together, they work out theories about the meaning of the work, and about the context in 1982 and in the present too.

As the last discussions about Kundera's handling, the background stories and the characters wind up, the circle slowly starts to dissolve. Everyone seems to leave with a good feeling, knowing that they have offered some food for their souls today.

After the Kundera book, the next meeting went on to discuss the trilogy "Our Ancestors" (1952–1959) by Italian journalist and writer Italo Calvino.

Massolit Book Café
Budapest, District VII, 30 Nagy Diófa Street
Meetings are held from 18.00 to 19.30

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