Milan Kundera is a French-Czech author, born in Czech. His book “The Joke” will be the Czech Republic representative, on my #readingtheworld bookshelf.
Genre: Historical/Political fiction
Ludvik, the main character in this novel, is a semi accomplished young man, active in the Party, and communism is dominant in this time and place. There is a lot of dwelling by traditions lost and found, he plays in a folk-music band and the summer of youth is everlasting. Then he meets a girl. An innocent(?) joke suddenly turns his life around and he finds himself isolated, in barracks with other men, and only the mines to keep their minds and bodies occupied. Then he meets another girl. But this girl is different, this one actually has an impact on him. What happens in the following, I shan’t spoil for you, but there’s plenty more!
I have to admit, that I didn’t know the book, when I acquired it. A newfound friend recommended it to me, while in Brno, Czech Republic, and I thought – while in Czech! So I bought the book, excited about this funny, funny read. It’s not funny. At least, not in the way I expected it would be, since reviews featured on the back called it funny, and it’s even called “the joke”. But ok, fair enough, that’s on me.
When I adjusted my imaginary reading-goggles, I really fell into the book, but sadly only during certain chapters. There were some events and chapters that I really could do without, but I guess they add some perspective to the main character’s situation, so maybe, maybe not.
It is very well written and the language and dialogue is wonderful and it is well suited for slightly more advanced readers, who are looking for something a little deeper and more ‘academic’ to the feel, than e.g. “Remember me?” by Sophie Kinsella (Which I reviewed earlier – see blogpost here). By being slightly ‘academically’ written, this novel sometimes seem a bit dry, especially in the politically heavy pages, or even the more religious sections, which are also present. The author seems fond of great politically challenging discussions, thoughts and dialogue, and I am not really a fan of grandiose expression within politics, because it seems shallow and pretentious to me.
Some passages of the book, where the main character is somewhat isolated from the life he had, before an incident of great impact, are incredibly good. These passages are so well executed and told, that I submerged in the story completely, and literally could not put down the book. I stayed up way too late, a few nights in a row, but it was worth it. In these passages, life is explained so well, thoughts are being expressed with meaningful words and it makes you think, that stays with you.
With that said, I do find the characters quite stereotyped and not exactly as well rounded and interesting as the author seems to be going for here. Especially the males surrounding themselves with obsessions of possessing females in certain ways, domestically, sexually, romantically etc. and females being inferior in most cases. This, added up with our main character taking advantage of situations and womens’ feelings, makes me wish for some strong, apolitical woman to show up, but alas. Women in this book seem to exist in relation to men and our main character, which disappointed me.
This is a very critical review, but with all this said, I came to enjoy and really like the book, despite the fact that I don’t often like to read historical/political things, where males are dominant and women are exploited. It offered some real and interesting insight into how different peoples’ minds can work around the same events, and for that, it is worth a read.
So if you’re into political, historical fiction, that challenges your views and presents you with different thoughts and perspectives on being a person with a strong sense of right/wrong, then this book is certainly a must read! I appreciated it, and would like to read more by Milan Kundera, now that I’m familiar with his style.