The Joke

Kundera, Milan. The Joke. Translated by Michael Henry Heim. New York: Harper & Row, 1982.

It is important to understand first how The Joke is organized because to just read it without paying attention is like landing in a foreign country and driving without a map. The book is in seven parts, each part being the point of view of a different character until the 7th part. It reads like a musical quartet with Ludvik, Helena, Jaroslav and Kostka all give their perception of “the joke.” The story starts with Ludvik returning to his hometown after 15 years and knowing no one. He reminiscences about a joke gone horribly wrong. But when the reader gets to part II the point of view has changed without announcement. Only by paying attention to the table of contents do we know we are now getting someone else’s perception of the joke. The second thing to remember is the time and place of The Joke. Communist Czech. A person can be kicked out of the party and out of school for saying the wrong thing. While there are many jokes throughout the story it is important to note the original joke stems from a postcard Ludvik has written a classmate implying he is a Trotskyite.

Favorite quotes, “During a lifetime of switching beds I’d developed a personal cult of keys, and I slipped Kostka’s into my pocket with silent glee” (p 5). Odd.
“The young can’t help acting: they’re thrust immature into a mature world and must act mature” (p 76), and “Fantasies are what make home of houses” (p 124). True.

Reason read: September is a good time to visit Czechoslovakia.

Author fact: The Joke was Kundera’s first novel.

Book Trivia: My copy was translated by Michael Henry Heim.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Czech It Out” (p 71).

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