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The Joke by Milan Kundera
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The Joke (1967)

by Milan Kundera

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English (18)  French (3)  Spanish (2)  Portuguese (1)  Czech (1)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (27)
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I've been a bit all over the place in my reading this past year; one of the goals I set was to read some Kundera along the way. A few months ago I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being as a first plunge and, afterwards, I knew I'd want to try to fit in more from Kundera as soon as possible. There's a satisfying ripeness to Kundera that captivates, a ripeness that is even more pronounced in his earlier work, The Joke.

In the Joke, Kundera's evocation of postwar, communist Czechosolovakia is vividly played out through an accomplished multiperspectivity. While I find Kundera's representations of women and our primary protagonist quite hard to swallow, it's this accomplishment that draws me to Kundera as an artist. I feel that it is these flawed characters and characterizations that offer up something complex and worthwhile to the reader. Kundera not only cracks open bits of Czechosolovakia for us, he cracks open his protagonist and lays him bare for the reader. As if he's coaxing the reader to feel the hot flush of anger, to reach out and truly grasp the warp and whittle of the era on the soul put before us.

By doing so, Kundera elevates the reader to a level of introspection and capable understanding that is incredibly important. ( )
  lamotamant | Jun 23, 2016 |
Book Description All too often, this brilliant novel of thwarted love and revenge miscarried has been read for its political implications. Now, a quarter century after The Joke was first published and several years after the collapse of the Soviet-imposed Czechoslovak regime, it becomes easier to put such implications into perspective in favor of valuing the book (and all Kundera 's work) as what it truly is: great, stirring literature that sheds new light on the eternal themes of human existence. The present edition provides English-language readers an important further means toward revaluation of The Joke. For reasons he describes in his Author's Note, Milan Kundera devoted much time to creating (with the assistance of his American publisher-editor) a completely revised translation that reflects his original as closely as any translation possibly can: reflects it in its fidelity not only to the words and syntax but also to the characteristic dictions and tonalities of the novel's narrators. The result is nothing less than the restoration of a classic.

My Review I enjoyed Kundera's writing very much. The story was a good insight into life under Communist Czechoslovakia. Because of a joke, Ludvik is betrayed by his party which leaves him with the feelings of anger, hate and revenge. He has to therefore learn to live his life despite the expectations of his society. By the end of the book, the theme is exposed and we learn that we all have only an illusion of control over our lives--ultimately the joke is on us. I would recommend this book to those who are interested in life under a Communist regime. ( )
  EadieB | Jun 1, 2016 |
The novel is composed of many jokes which hold strong effect on the characters. The story is told in the four viewpoints of Ludvik Jahn, Helena Zemanek, Kostka, and Jaroslav. Jaroslav's joke is the transition away from his coveted Moravian folk lifestyle and appreciation. Kostka, who has separated himself from the party due to his Christianity, serves as a counterpoint to Ludvik. Helena serves as Ludvik's victim and is satirical of the seriousness of party supporters. Ludvik demonstrates the shortcomings of the party and propels the plot in his search for revenge and redemption.

The novel takes place during the Czechoslavian transition into a Communist country.

Written and set in 1965 Prague and first published in Czechoslovakia in 1967, the novel opens with Ludvik Jahn looking back on the joke that changed his life in the early 1950s. Ludvik was a dashing, witty, and popular student who supported the Party. Like most of his friends he was an enthusiastic supporter of the still-fresh Communist regime in post-World War II Czechoslovakia. In a playful mood he writes a postcard to one of the girls in his class during their summer break. Since she seems, according to Ludvik, to be a bit too serious he writes on the postcard "Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!" His colleagues and fellow young-party leaders did not quite see the humor in the sentiment expressed in the postcard. Ludvik finds himself expelled from the party and college and drafted to that part of the Czech military where alleged subversives form work brigades and spend the next few years working in mines.

Despite the interruption in his career Ludvik has become a successful scientist. But despite his success, his treatment at the hands of his former friends has left him bitter and angry. An opportunity arises when he meets Helena, who is married to Pavel Zemanek, the friend who led the efforts to purge Ludvik from the party. Ludvik decides to seduce Helena as a means of exacting his revenge. In essence this is the second `joke' of the novel. Although the seduction is successful things do not quite play out the way Ludvik expects, the novel's third joke' and he is left once more to sit and think bitter thoughts. Ultimately he decides that these sorts of jokes and their bitter repercussions are not the fault of the humans who set them in motion but are really just a matter of historic inevitability. Ultimately then one cannot blame forces that cannot be changed or altered.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Read this book in my spare time during a short stint working in a bookstore and it immediately and I dare say permanently lodged itself into my list of beloved books.

Why this book's rating lies below four stars befuddles me. It's an exciting and provocative tale of the dehumanization of a person by an autocratic state. Fuck 1984 and Brave New World; Kundera saw them all and raised. ( )
  palaverofbirds | Mar 29, 2013 |
This is Kundera's first and, in my opinion, best novel. (Later he became better at aphorisms than stories.) This novel has more beauty in it than all the others combined, and the irony/tragedy is more effective than in the others because it unfolds with the story, catching both the protagonist and the reader off guard.

If you're like me, this book will convince you to love Czech folk music before you've even heard it. ( )
1 vote Muscogulus | Mar 3, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (40 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kundera, Milanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aragon, LouisPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Asher, AaronTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Aymonin, MarcelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Courtot, ClaudeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hamblyn, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heim, Michael HenryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stallybrass, OliverTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Шульгина, Н.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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So here I was, home again after all those years. Standing in the main square (which I had crossed countless times as a child, as a boy, as a young man), I felt no emotion whatsoever; all I could think was that the flat space, with the spire of the town hall (like a soldier in an ancient helmet) rising above the rooftops, looked like a huge parade ground and that the military past of the Moravian town, once a bastion against Magyar and Turk invaders, had engraved an irrevocable ugliness on its face.
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Please note: The 1st English-language version was translated by Hamblyn and Stallybrass (1969); the 2nd English version was based on Hamblyn and Stallybrass, but "curtailed" (1969, New York, Coward-McCann); the 3rd English version was revised by author (1970, London, Penguin); the 4th English version was translated by Heim and includes a preface by Kundera explaining the previous 3 English versions (1982); and the 5th Definitive Version in English was fully revised by Kundera and translated by Kundera and Asher, based on Heim's previous translation (1992). Definitive Version has "Author's Note" explaining all 5 English-language versions.
This 1st version translated into English was rendered by the translators David Hamblyn and Oliver Stallybrass. This 1st version should not be confused with subsequent English-language versions. For an explanation of this, see "Author's Note" in the definitive version (the 5th version).
The Definitive Version is the 5th version translated into English, which was fully revised by the author. For an explanation of this, see "Author's Note" in the definitive version. Definitive Version was translated by Aaron Asher and Milan Kundera, based on the 4th translation of Michael Henry Heim.
This 4th Version translated into English, is not to be confused with the Definitive Version (5th version, English). For an explanation of this, see "Author's Note" in the definitive version. This 4th Version was translated by Michael Henry Heim.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 006099505X, Paperback)

All too often, this brilliant novel of thwarted love and revenge miscarried has been read for its political implications. Now, a quarter century after The Joke was first published and several years after the collapse of the Soviet-imposed Czechoslovak regime, it becomes easier to put such implications into perspective in favor of valuing the book (and all Kundera 's work) as what it truly is: great, stirring literature that sheds new light on the eternal themes of human existence.

The present edition provides English-language readers an important further means toward revaluation of The Joke. For reasons he describes in his Author's Note, Milan Kundera devoted much time to creating (with the assistance of his American publisher-editor) a completely revised translation that reflects his original as closely as any translation possibly can: reflects it in its fidelity not only to the words and syntax but also to the characteristic dictions and tonalities of the novel's narrators. The result is nothing less than the restoration of a classic.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:43 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Set in Stalinist Czechoslovakia during the 1950s, this tragicomedy revolves around the consequences of a single joke: a young man, is expelled from university and the Communist party and sentenced to six years hard labor for an irreverent postcard he sends to a lady friend. This leaves him cynical, bitter, and out for revenge.… (more)

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