All too often, this brilliant novel of thwarted love and revenge miscarried has been read for its political implications. Now, a quarter century after The Joke was first published and several years after the collapse of the Soviet-imposed Czechoslovak regime, it becomes easier to put such implications into perspective in favor of valuing the book (and all Kundera 's work) as what it truly is: great, stirring literature that sheds new light on the eternal themes of human existence.
The present edition provides English-language readers an important further means toward revaluation of The Joke. For reasons he describes in his Author's Note, Milan Kundera devoted much time to creating (with the assistance of his American publisher-editor) a completely revised translation that reflects his original as closely as any translation possibly can: reflects it in its fidelity not only to the words and syntax but also to the characteristic dictions and tonalities of the novel's narrators. The result is nothing less than the restoration of a classic.
The Joke, Milan Kundera's first novel, of which Salman Rushdie wrote 'It is impossible to do justice here to the subtleties, comedy and wisdom of this very beautiful novel. The author of The Joke is clearly one of the best to be found anywhere.'
Milan Kundera, born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, was a student when the Czech Communist regime was established in 1948, and later worked as a labourer, jazz musician and professor at the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies in Prague. After the Russian invasion in August 1968, his books were proscribed. In 1975, he and his wife settled in France, and in 1981, he became a French citizen. He is the author of the novels The Joke, Life is Elsewhere, Farewell Waltz, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Immortality, and of the short-story collection Laughable Loves - all originally in Czech. His most recent novels, Slowness, Identity and Ignorance, as well as his non-fiction works The Art of the Novel and Testaments Betrayed, were originally written in French.