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Monday, April 11, 2016

The Joke (1967) by Milan Kundera

Book Review
The Joke (1967)
 by Milan Kundera

  The Joke is Milan Kundera's first novel, and it only lasted two years on the 1001 Books list. The translation history from Czech to English.  Kundera hated the original translation, and a second, approved translation came out in the 80s.  Kundera eventually grew disenchanted with that translation as well, so now there is a third version.  According to the Wikipedia plot summary, Kundera called this book "The Joke" because there are several jokes at the center of the plot, about the interconnected lives of two students attending university at the same time in newly Communist Prague after World War II.  One is denounced by a friend after he makes an innocent joke with a romantic target.  He is sent off to the Czech version of a re-education camp, where he mines coal and begins an ambivalent relationship with a mysterious young girl.

   Ludvik, the student sent away to the re-education camp, recovers from his time in disgrace and becomes a successful professional.   Years later, he meets Helena, the wife of his rival(Pavel.)  He seduces Helena, but what begins as a simple revenge plot becomes complicated, in a darkly comic fashion involving a failed suicide attempt and laxatives.   Like many works of the Czech New Wave, and the Polish New Wave and the French New Wave, Kundera's debut addresses issues of intertwined fate between the main characters.

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