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The Joke by Milan Kundera

The Joke (1967)

by Milan Kundera

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3,297332,728 (3.92)37
The Joke, Milan Kundera's first novel, gained him a huge following in his own country and launched his worldwide literary reputation. In his foreword Kundera explains why this completely revised translation is the definitive edition of his work. 'It is impossible to do justice here to the subtleties, comedy and wisdom of this very beautiful novel. The author of The Joke is clearly one of the best to be found anywhere.' Salman Rushdie, Observer… (more)

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» See also 37 mentions

English (19)  French (7)  Spanish (2)  Portuguese (1)  Czech (1)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (32)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Se devora, es difícil dejar algunas paginas para después... ( )
  maxtrek | Jan 30, 2019 |
I read this book to give me a little sense of place about the Czech Republic before a vacation to Central Europe. I wanted a book that was fun to read but would also give me a sense of setting in Prague. This story is set during the post World War II Communist era in Czechoslovakia. As a joke, the main character, Ludvik, sends a post card to a lover with a statement that is definitely anti-Communist propaganda. However, the censors don't see it as a joke and Ludvig's promising life as a student quickly ends and he spends several years of his life in work camps. Years later, he plots his revenge on his former friend and comrade who was instrumental in his punishment by seducing this man's wife. There are many nested 'jokes' in this story because nothing turns out exactly as it was intended.

This story definitely gives a feeling for the oppression of living under Communist rule, but even more than that, there are several universal themes about revenge, friendship, and human resilience in the face of change. The writing was beautiful and the plot had universal lessons that made me think a lot about my own life. ( )
  jmoncton | Nov 5, 2018 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Jan 2013):
- This was Kundera's first novel, though he was already an established poet and story writer. It was written in 1965, but he didn't dare publish in communist Prague.
- The main character is Ludvik, sharp university student, and loyal communist party patron in early 1950s Prague. .. In a moment of flippant humor, he scribbles a party-mocking line on a postcard to his uptight girlfriend. The severe, censorious mood of the society doesn't take the joke with grace. Ludvik is ratted out, and subsequently tossed out of school and the party. As an official "enemy of the state", he is conscripted into the army and assigned two years' labor..
- .. He eventually settles into the regimented life of the "black insignia", and we are introduced to his pals.. Some of their mischievous exploits are described, as well as further injustices of the system, and I enjoyed these pages. A tentative romance also plays out, as the silent, almost ephemeral Lucie observes Ludvik from beyond the gates.
- With Ludvik as the pivot character, we meet a few friends, whose narratives alternate among Ludvik's... Jaroslav is the longtime friend..who determinedly holds true to the old folkways and customs of Czechoslovakia, and plays in a Moravian-style folk band. An ancient, pageant-like event called "The Ride of the Kings" reappears throughout the novel, to good effect I think.
- The final third of the book contains some anomalous interjections on Christianity, Marxism and Czech history, some of which loses me. Even so, Ludvik remains the heart of the story, and his walk among the assembling "Ride of the Kings", with the contrast of the colorfully plumed participants against the dirty browns of the spectators and nervous officials, represents well the tragic state of a society whose very soul is in shackles. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Apr 12, 2018 |
This novel has all too often been highlighted for its political implications and its criticism of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia in the years leading up to the Prague Spring. Yet the messages and themes of the book go far beyond the specific circumstances in which it was written, and perhaps now, with the fall of the Iron Curtain and Communism in Europe fast fading from our collective memories, these eternal, human elements can be appreciated all the more. This is a story of lost faith, thwarted love, and misdirected revenge all brilliantly interwoven from the perspectives of a number of key protagonists.

The Joke of the novel's title refers in part to the major impulse that drives the main character, Ludvik Jahn. A postcard written satirically at the expense of the regime leads to his fall from grace, yet in his fall he finds happiness, only to lose it and become embittered, seeking vengeance against the system, the society, and the individuals that had robbed him of his place. This might seem ample ammunition for an author of Kundera's calibre, the simple message of resistance to totalitarianism through simple, human means: through resilience, through adultery. Needless to say, the failure of this resistance raises the question as to what the real joke is. Just the postcard? Or man's faith in the system (any system)? Perhaps the humility of life itself? Kundera leaves that to the reader to decide, and this openness contributes to making the novel a pleasure to read.

There is also a film adaptation produced in 1968 from director Jaromil Jires that is well worth a look, though its focus on Ludvik Jahn leaves the book feeling richer and more accurate in its message.

Finally it should be mentioned, as others have pointed out, that this edition marks the fifth and final version of the English translation of Zert, at least as far as Kundera is concerned. It captures not only the language but also the subtle moods and nuances, and even the syntax of the original, all elements askew in earlier revisions of the English translation, so for those with an older version of the work considering a re-read, this edition might also be worth the purchase. ( )
  Fips | Oct 30, 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 |
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» Add other authors (41 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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First words
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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