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).


Kafka, Franz. “Metamorphosis.” Franz Kafka: the Complete Stories.Ed.Nahum N. Glatzer. New York: Schoken Books, 1971. 89-139.

What a freaking sad, sad story (or novella, if you will). Even though I read this once in high school and twice in college I wanted to refresh my memory about the details. From my previous readings I remember Gregor woke up one morning to find he had transformed into a bug. Instead of being concerned about the multiple legs, hard shell and the fact he couldn’t turn himself over, Gregor was more upset about sleeping late, missing the train and being late to work as a traveling salesman. This was a key point in the story. I also remember his parents and sister not being all that supportive of his transformation. This also was a huge point in the story. His family was repulsed by his appearance and refused to consider him part of the family. Their neglect of him gets worse and worse until dirty and broken, he succumbs to starvation and the injuries sustained when his father threw an apple at him. What I didn’t remember was the nitty-gritty psychology of it all. Gregor’s resentment about being the bread winner for the family, how underneath it all he felt like a bug even before the metamorphosis, and ultimately his family’s complete exclusion of Gregor as an insect. The other detail I had completely forgotten was how freeing Gregor’s death was to the family. They moved on without a single regret.

To mark Gregor’s severe denial of bugness: “This getting up early, he thought, makes one quite stupid. A man needs his sleep” (p 90). Only Gregor is no longer a man, but an insect.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust twice. Once in the chapter called, “Czech It Out” (p 70), and once in the chapter called, “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade (1910s) (p 177).