Marira Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty uses humorous, almost childlike, imagery to show the reader that it is important to focus on the good in life. The reader gets some insight into Kalman’s mind in her September 6, 2006 chapter when she talks about going to a wedding in war-torn Israel because “you cannot postpone weddings in dark times—especially in dark times. Who knows when the light will come on again” (69). Kalman’s tragic family history, full of politically influenced moves across the world, must be the driving force behind these illustrations. While the reader does not explicitly learn much about Kalman while reading her memoir, little insights into her life can be picked up in the surface level details she shares about her day to day life. Kalman uses this humorous form to suggest a very surface level piece of literature to her readers, while imparting a life lesson to those willing to look a little closer at the silly drawings and seemingly mundane details of a year in her life.
Kalman starts off her novel with the image of a Dodo bird—a creature well known for being long extinct. This image is on a page where Kalman says it is “impossible to begin” telling the reader everything that is in her heart (3). After the bird, the pages feature a now dead philosopher, one of Pavlov’s dogs, the murdered or missing members of the Bolshevik government, and an incorrect rendering of a US map drawn by Kalman’s now dead mother. While the procession of seemingly random images paints a scatter-brained image of the author one might be justified in laughing at, there is a real message buried under the dreamlike images. The message is one imparted throughout the novel in various places: life goes on. Spinoza and Pavlov might have been trying to “figure out a rational explanation for everything,” but they are dead now and life has moved on (4). In the January 3, 2007 chapter, the novel features digital photographs of New Yorkers going about their daily lives. The only part of Kalman we can see is her reactions to these people written in the captions. She notices universal qualities in the people around her that could place them anywhere. One wears a bow that you could see “in the Hermitage,” one shakes her hand, another walks through the mist—the list could go on forever, and could be of people from anywhere around the world (205). Kalman’s family faced political hardship and had to move to the US from Tel Aviv, so she must have some profound sense that life goes on no matter what happens around you or where you are.