I really love Milan Kundera.
This book is so great. It’s Kundera’s first novel and it’s just so dense and smart and sad. It’s like, things are not as they seem, they were not as they seemed. The only thing that is anything is how we feel.
The Joke follows around Ludvik as he returns to his hometown for a few days. In that time, he seeks revenge and sees his ex-girlfriend and tries to understand what’s real. His whole life changed a while ago when, as a student, he sent an anti-communist joke back to his girlfriend. Actually, the joke was intended to confuse her because he was so hurt that her letter to him was so joyous. She didn’t miss him enough, he felt. Well people find the letter and kick him out of the Party and out of the university and into the mines to work hard labor for years.
But in that time he meets Lucie. Someone fulfilling and interesting and pure seeming. She brings him flowers and he is in a rush to have sex the second they’re alone. She doesn’t go for it and he gets mad and they break up. Then years later she ends up being the person who shaves his face upon arrival in Moravia. He doesn’t speak to her tho. He asks a friend for more information and winds up learning about himself as he learns about her from this friend’s perspective. What he learns complicates the myth he told himself for years. And anyway that’s what culture is–myths we tell and retell.
Ludvik’s narrative is ultimately about growing up, but his truest self is shown when he honors his childhood self–that’s him playing his clarinet with an old friend in an impromptu band, caring more about the moment than the past.
Best line: A great deal has been said about love at first sight; I am perfectly aware of love’s retrospective tendency to make a legend of itself, turn its beginnings into myth; so I don’t want to assert that it was LOVE; but I have no doubt there was a kind of clairvoyance at work (Kundera 66).