Life is no Žert

The JokeThe Joke by Milan Kundera

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In reality the opposite is true: everything will be forgotten and nothing will be redressed. The task of obtaining redress will be taken over by forgetting.

This philosophy, I may not know where it's from, is what Milan Kundera imparted in his first novel. The seven-part creation chronicles the Czech history and culture of more than a decade. Told in four viewpoints, we see the story of Ludvík, plotting a vangeance with his comrade (and previously, a friend, Zemanek). The Joke is not a satirical novel, but an ironic one, because as you read along you see yourself within the time and tide of the characters unfolded before your eyes.

It all started with the playful spirit of the scientist named Ludvík Jahn, sending a postcard with a political joke:
Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!

Using Trotskism as a political joke (a political philosophy adverse of the Czech communism of the time) branded Ludvík as the enemy of the party (thus ousted) and sent to the mines. This is the first Joke.

As you go with the pages you see the treatment of being branded, the suffering of working in the mines and their longing for individual freedom. We see Ludvík's encounter with the first love, Lucíe Sebetka, his sudden enstrangement with his musician friend Jaroslav, and his bitterness with fate and life by plotting a revenge against Zemanek - and his wife Helena.

What I loved with the novel is how Kundera unfolded the humanity of the four narrators - Ludvík, Helena, Kotska, and Jaroslav - by placing them in the Czechoslovakia situation as a backdrop. Perhaps the country is so full of history that these interweaving stories make it more vulnerable to the ironies of their times - on how one deals with the genuinity of the Moravian Folk music as a political movement, or of faithfulness to the Catholic faith in contrast with the Communist ideals.

In addition, Kundera intently placed the drama on how one's hatred controlled one's life, only be slammed by the irony that these contained feelings are simply forgotten by those who caused it; Or how one's indifference makes the other amorous and how one's amorous sentiments makes the other descend into abandonment.

This #laslasread, ended with a heart attack, is what Kundera bequeathed to his countrymen, that a sudden change is needed to the once sparkling glamour to the slowly decaying cynical society of his. I am not a Czech, but it clicked my interest on why the Prague Spring happened.

May it be the love story or the changing times of the Czech history, I hope you consider this heavy book a try. The book simply awakens your consciousness of the human spirit, and makes you ponder of the gravity of the Hands of Time and of the Wheels of Fate.

1. Trotsky is a leader of Red Army, during 1917 he was on Stalin's side until the Left Opposition and the Great Purge happened. He was assassinated by Stalin's men.
2. Moravian folk music was made as a party movement post-WW2 times.
3. Most of the Czechs today are atheists. Before half of the Czechoslovakia is of Catholic faith (rough estimate)
4. Pre-february (1948) is before the coup de etat, before Czechoslovakia became a Communist Government.
[gathered information from wikipedia.or]

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