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Isaiah Richardson
Isaiah Richardson

Milan Kundera The Joke Epub 14: How a Postcard Changed a Man's Life

Milan Kundera The Joke Epub 14: A Satirical Novel of Love and Revenge

If you are looking for a novel that combines humor, romance, politics, and philosophy, you might want to check out The Joke by Milan Kundera. This novel, first published in 1967, is considered one of the masterpieces of Czech literature and one of the most influential works of the 20th century. In this article, we will give you an overview of the novel's plot, themes, and style, and explain why it is still relevant today.

Milan Kundera The Joke Epub 14 christian undrentide


Who is Milan Kundera?

Milan Kundera is a Czech-born writer who has lived in France since 1975. He is best known for his novels, such as The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and Immortality, which explore the existential and moral dilemmas of modern life. He is also a renowned essayist, critic, and poet. He has won many awards for his work, including the Prix Médicis, the Jerusalem Prize, and the Franz Kafka Prize.

What is The Joke about?

The Joke is Kundera's first novel, and it tells the story of Ludvik Jahn, a sarcastic man who likes to make jokes. The novel is divided into seven parts, each narrated by a different character: Ludvik, Helena, Kostka, and Jaroslav. The novel spans several decades, from the 1950s to the 1960s, and covers various historical events, such as the Stalinist purges, the Prague Spring, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

The main plot revolves around Ludvik's joke that changed his life. When he was a young student and a loyal communist, he sent a postcard to his girlfriend Marketa, who was away at a summer camp. On the postcard, he wrote: "Optimism is the opium of mankind! A healthy spirit stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!" He meant it as a joke, but Marketa showed it to her friends in the Party, who did not find it funny at all. Ludvik was expelled from the Party and from the university, and sent to a labor camp. There he met Lucie, a young girl who became his lover.

Years later, Ludvik returns to his hometown as a successful scientist. He decides to take revenge on Pavel Zemanek, his former friend who led his expulsion. He seduces Zemanek's wife, Helena, who is a radio reporter. However, his plan backfires, as he realizes that he does not hate Helena, but rather feels sorry for her. He also learns that Lucie, whom he abandoned, committed suicide. He is left with a sense of emptiness and irony.

Why is it relevant today?

The Joke is not only a historical novel, but also a timeless one. It deals with universal themes, such as love, betrayal, identity, freedom, and humor. It shows how a single joke can have serious consequences, and how people can be manipulated by ideology and propaganda. It also questions the role of humor in life, and whether it can be a source of joy or pain. The novel is relevant today because it challenges us to think critically about our own beliefs and actions, and to appreciate the complexity and ambiguity of human nature.

Main Body

The Joke as a critique of communism

Ludvik's joke and its consequences

One of the main themes of the novel is the critique of communism, especially the Stalinist regime that ruled Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. The novel shows how Ludvik's joke, which was meant as a harmless expression of his individuality and wit, was interpreted as a serious offense against the Party and the state. Ludvik was punished harshly for his joke, and lost his education, his career, his friends, and his freedom. He was forced to work in a labor camp, where he witnessed the brutality and corruption of the system. He also saw how other prisoners, who were labeled as enemies of the people, were treated with contempt and violence.

The role of ideology and propaganda

The novel also exposes the role of ideology and propaganda in shaping people's minds and behaviors. The novel shows how the Party used various methods to indoctrinate and control its members and citizens. For example, the Party organized mass rallies, parades, meetings, and lectures to spread its propaganda and slogans. The Party also censored and banned any books, music, art, or culture that did not conform to its ideology. The Party also used fear and intimidation to silence any dissent or criticism.

The novel illustrates how some characters were brainwashed by the Party's ideology and propaganda. For example, Marketa was so loyal to the Party that she betrayed Ludvik without hesitation. Zemanek was so fanatical that he denounced Ludvik and became a ruthless leader. Helena was so naive that she believed everything that the Party told her. On the other hand, some characters resisted or rebelled against the Party's ideology and propaganda. For example, Ludvik never lost his sense of humor and irony. Kostka maintained his faith in God and morality. Jaroslav preserved his love for folk music and culture.

The loss of individuality and freedom

The novel also depicts the loss of individuality and freedom under communism. The novel shows how the Party tried to erase any differences or diversity among people, and to impose a uniform and conformist society. The Party wanted people to think alike, act alike, dress alike, and live alike. The Party did not tolerate any expression of personal opinion, taste, style, or creativity. The Party did not respect any human rights or dignity.

The novel demonstrates how some characters lost their individuality and freedom under communism. For example, Ludvik lost his identity as a student, a musician, a lover, and a scientist. He became a number in a labor camp, a tool in a factory, a stranger in his hometown. He could not pursue his dreams or passions. He could not express his feelings or thoughts freely. He could not trust anyone or love anyone sincerely.

The Joke as a reflection of human relationships

Ludvik's love for Lucie and Helena

Another theme of the novel is the reflection of human relationships, especially romantic ones. The novel explores how Ludvik's relationships with two women changed his life: Lucie and Helena.

Ludvik met Lucie when he was in the labor camp. She was a young girl who had been raped by her stepfather. She came to visit him at the fence every day with flowers. She became his lover and his source of comfort and hope. She gave him her virginity and her devotion. However, Ludvik did not love her as much as she loved him. He left her when he got out of the camp without saying goodbye. He later learned that she committed suicide by drowning herself in a river.

The novel reflects the author's personal views and experiences, which may not be objective or accurate. The novel also reflects the historical and cultural context of its time, which may not be relevant or appealing to contemporary readers.

Recommendation for further reading

If you enjoyed reading The Joke by Milan Kundera, you might want to read some of his other novels, such as:

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being: This novel explores the lives and loves of four characters in Prague during the 1968 Soviet invasion.

  • The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: This novel consists of seven stories that deal with the themes of memory, identity, and politics in communist Czechoslovakia.

  • Immortality: This novel follows the stories of several characters who are connected by a gesture of a woman in a swimming pool.

You might also want to read some other novels that are similar to The Joke in terms of genre, style, or theme, such as:

  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: This novel is a satire of war and bureaucracy that follows the absurd adventures of a US Air Force captain during World War II.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell: This novel is a dystopian fiction that depicts a totalitarian society where Big Brother controls everything and everyone.

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: This novel is a controversial romance that tells the story of a middle-aged man who falls in love with a 12-year-old girl.

I hope you found this article informative and interesting. Thank you for reading!


Here are some frequently asked questions about The Joke by Milan Kundera:

  • What is the joke that Ludvik wrote on the postcard?

The joke that Ludvik wrote on the postcard was: "Optimism is the opium of mankind! A healthy spirit stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!" He wrote it as a sarcastic response to his girlfriend Marketa's letter about her enthusiasm for communism.

  • What is the significance of the title The Joke?

The title The Joke has multiple meanings. It refers to Ludvik's joke on the postcard that changed his life. It also refers to the various jokes that appear throughout the novel, both verbal and situational. It also refers to the irony and humor that pervade the novel's tone and style. It also refers to the absurdity and tragedy of life itself, which can be seen as a cosmic joke.

  • Who are the narrators of the novel?

The novel is narrated by four characters: Ludvik, Helena, Kostka, and Jaroslav. Each character tells their own story and perspective on the events that happened. The novel switches among their viewpoints in each part.

  • What is the genre of the novel?

The novel is a satirical novel that combines humor and tragedy. It is also a historical novel that depicts the political and social situation of Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s. It is also a philosophical novel that explores the existential and moral questions of human existence.

  • What are some of the symbols and motifs in the novel?

Some of the symbols and motifs in the novel are:

  • Folk music and culture: They symbolize Jaroslav's passion and pride for his heritage and his people. They also symbolize the contrast between tradition and modernity, and between individuality and conformity.

  • The barber: He symbolizes Ludvik's fate and irony. He was the one who shaved Ludvik's head in the labor camp, and he was also the one who recognized Ludvik when he returned to his hometown. He also symbolizes the connection between past and present, and between memory and forgetting.

He also symbolizes the mystery and ambiguity of life and meaning.

  • The river: It symbolizes Lucie's love and death. She drowned herself in a river after giving birth to Ludvik's child. She also symbolized the purity and innocence of Ludvik's lost youth and happiness.



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