Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Joke” as Want to Read:
The Joke
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Joke

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  25,358 ratings  ·  1,082 reviews
All too often, this brilliant novel of thwarted love and revenge miscarried has been read for its political implications. Now though, 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 ...more
Paperback, 371 pages
Published 1992 by Faber and Faber (first published 1967)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Joke, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Rv Branham i loved the movie, esp. the way that the director fucked around a bit w/ film format & aspect ratio, something that i wish had been done w/ the…morei loved the movie, esp. the way that the director fucked around a bit w/ film format & aspect ratio, something that i wish had been done w/ the unbearable lightness of being, which could have been great, but was merely okay, because the approach was too conservative & never hooked you into the movie the way that movies can when they fuck around a bit or a lot w/ format, like using black & white & different aspect ratios & mixing 16 mm & super 8 & 35 mm, as other directors have done w/ period films. that way they can sneak in archival documentary footage w/out the the viewer even stopping to think abt it. (i am thinking abt lindsay anderson's if, abt winterbottom's 24 hr party people, abt hayes velvet goldmine & i'm not there, &abt some godard where he really fucks around w/ format & film stock, & yes, the joke, one of my favorite czech movies.)(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.01  · 
Rating details
 ·  25,358 ratings  ·  1,082 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Joke
Mar 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
On Monday at around 3 o'clock in the afternoon I decided I was going to read "The Joke." I don't really know why; it occurred to me out of the blue -- the only thought I'd ever given Kundera before that point was that the titles of his books obviously lived in a world devoid of irony in order to persist in their existence, and that that unironic world was one I wanted no part of. On the other hand, I really liked the title "The Joke" and I'd always liked the font in which it was written. That ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
402. Žert = The Joke, Milan Kundera
The Joke is Milan Kundera's first novel, originally published in 1967. The novel is composed of many jokes, which have strong effects on the characters. The story is told from the four viewpoints of Ludvik Jahn, Helena Zemánková, Kostka, and Jaroslav. Jaroslav's joke is the transition away from his coveted Moravian folk lifestyle and appreciation. Kostka, who has separated himself from the Communist Party due to his Christianity, serves as a counterpoint to
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
There was a time when a joke could force you into exile or send you to jail!

Nowadays you can make the most outrageous claims and actually mean them. If anybody calls you out on your complete lack of truth or empathy or both, you just say:


And there won't be any consequences. The right to a disgusting sense of humour seems engraved in populist politicians' minds, and their sycophants are the master interpreters of jokes just like the secret police forces in the former Communist world were
Ian "Marvin" Graye
The Set Up

Milan Kundera wrote this, his first, novel in his early 30's.

I had already read and loved two later works, and was expecting it to be somehow inferior, as if he was still learning the ropes. However, it's an amazingly mature novel, and could fit anywhere in his body of work.

For all its metaphysical concerns, the writing style is very much concerned with the material world and the dynamism within it. Philosophy derives partly from the activity of external factors. The first person
Sidharth Vardhan
"she had been caught stealing flowers in a cemetery."

You know the theory which speculates that married men are way funnier than unmarried one because they have got the punchline?

The above joke is a test of how satisfied men are from their marriages and must never be made in presence of wives, as some husbands have imprudence to laugh on it. But that is the thing about jokes. You don’t ‘make’ something funny, funny is already in air – in form of unhappy husbands (it won’t be funny to kids who
Feb 17, 2007 rated it liked it
I like Kundra because he doesn’t imprison me in a fastened frame of a classic narration. Reading Kundra seems as if you meet an old friend after ages in a cafe shop, and while she/he relates her / his life story, you zip your coffee, listen to the cafe music, hear some chats and laughs at nabouring tables, look at the peddlers at side walk, or a passing tramvay, … as life is flowing around, ….

کوندرا را به این دلیل بسیار دوست دارم که مرا در چهارچوب بسته ی یک روایت زندانی نمی کند. خواندن کونرا
Farhan Khalid

Let me be perfectly honest: I was a man of many faces

They were all real

I had several faces because I was young and didn't know who I was or wanted to be

Hidden eye

She was constitutionally unable to look behind anything; she could only see the thing itself


Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!


A nihilist likes a good laugh, said one of them. He laughs at people who suffer


The only human bond we had was our
Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thorns Thou Sow in the Garden of the Soul

I was surprisingly impressed with the depth, accessibility and enjoyability of this novel, which Kundera wrote in 1965 and it was published in 1967 (and apparently played a role in the Prague Spring that year).

In the early 1950s Czechoslovakia, Ludvik Jahn, a university student with a great sense of humor, was a strong supporter of the Communist regime after World War II. Attempting to show his girlfriend a bit of charm and a sense of humor over the
There was a time when I read a lot of Milan Kundera but with the exception of The Joke they have blended together in my memory.

The novel is a twist on a revenge novel like The Count of Monte Cristo. There has been a wrong here too, and the perpetrator of it has moved in on the Hero's love. The digging though, is part of the punishment and not a means to escape. The twist is that the attempt at revenge goes awry (view spoiler).

What we see
Kundera and his magic pen! Four different characters, four different points of view, narrate through 20 or so years in a fast-changing world. Ludvik, the main character wishes to take revenge from a man who kicked him out of the Party when he was a student due to a joke he made, by humiliating his wife. Things don't go as planned though and a lesson is taught the hard way.

Heraclitus said that one cannot step into the same river twice. Everything is in a constant state of changing. Things that
The Joke was Milan Kundera's first novel. He began writing it in 1962, it was completed in 1965, first published in 1967 as Žert and first translated into English in 1969. Kundera didn't like the English translation as the translators completely changed the structure of the book. The irony that the book was published in Communist Czechoslovakia uncensored but completely altered and re-arranged when published in the West was not lost on Kundera. The translation that I read is by Michael Henry ...more
W.D. Clarke
Aug 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Third time, first in over 10 years. I cannot believe that I rated this a "mere" 4 stars before (it was probably the fault of Ludvik's (Kundera's?) loathed age of callow youth, the age of the self puzzled by and obsessed with itself, the age of [pace Kundera] "lyrical" poetry).

This is indeed a masterpiece—of nuance and restraint, of deliberation and yet also, at times, of abandon—and, dare I say it?—of (perhaps) mediated confession. Kundera writes elsewhere (in ULB) that his characters are all
Mutasim Billah
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: czech
“I was not a hypocrite, with one real face and several false ones. I had several faces because I was young and didn't know who I was or wanted to be.”

Milan Kundera's first novel is a satirical account of the Communist regime and its totalitarianism, eventually leading to his blacklisting and his works being banned in Czechoslovakia. The central theme of the plot being jokes, and how each of the central characters find their lives transformed by life's elaborate prank. There are four central

MJ Nicholls
The late MES brought me here, RIP The Fall. The opening track on underrated mid-nineties LP Cerebral Caustic opens with a song titled after (and explicitly referencing) this novel. An entertaining Czech production brimming with sardonic humour and well-explored Big Themes and Dramatic Crescendos (excuse the caps), at times rather tedious when the succession of same-sounding first-person narrators ramble on, and the concluding chapters at the Moravian folk ceremony are rather patience-testing. On ...more
Nov 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, fiction
Read this book in my spare time during a short stint working in a bookstore and it immediately and I dare say permanently lodged itself into my list of beloved books.

Why this book's rating lies below four stars befuddles me. It's an exciting and provocative tale of the dehumanization of a person by an autocratic state. Fuck 1984 and Brave New World; Kundera saw them all and raised.
Dan Keating
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In "The Joke" we have vintage Kundera - emotionally and intellectually challenging, ripe with the intertwining symbolism of the banal and the mystical, filled to the brim with romance, tragedy, comedy, and a pastiche of kitsch, which never once falls into kitsch itself. Invoking a bit of irony, the novel is quite simply "marvelous."

"The Joke" tells the story of several characters at various points in a more-or-less fifteen year period, but is principally the tale of Ludvik Jahn, a fallen Czech
The joke, originally published in Czech in 1967 as The Zert, is Kundera's first novel.
As it's title, the book is full of many jokes. There are seven chapters in the book and the story is told from the POV's of different characters. The timeline oscillates back and forth. I was really impressed by the depth of this book, and the eclectic characters.
Each character throws different light on the same events each character describes previously.
It's the Czechoslovakia of the 1950's, Ludvik Jahn, our
Jeannette Nikolova
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

One of my all-time favourite books is Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. So when I went to the Czech republic, I wanted to get a new Kundera book along my plan of buying books from the countries I visit. I had heard about The Joke from several people, so I told myself "Why not?". Well... I shouldn't have.

This book represented everything I could possibly hate about Kundera. I had heard before that he has many misogynistic tones in his books,
May 30, 2008 rated it liked it
His first novel - and not nearly as good as ULoB. Set in Communist Prague. Different chapters told by different protagonists, so the plot overlaps. Mostly revolving around a man expelled from the Party for an inappropriate joke (apparently supporting Trotsky) and other misunderstandings that blight his life. Vividly, and sadly, portrays the frustrations and hypocrisy of Communist control.
Dec 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I read it as part of a set of debut novels by novelists who later became major names in contemporary literature. This novel is written in Czech language and later translated into English as a group effort which included the novelist himself. I have been a fan of Kundera since I read his insightful expositions on the art of novel and on the nature of art in general.

The rise and consolidation of Communist rule in 1950s Czechoslovakia forms the background of this novel. The protagonist, himself a
Jan 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, europe
It always takes me a little while to process books before I can decide how I truly feel about them. The words that pop into mind right after finishing the book are sad, ironic, bittersweet. The regrets of life & looking back, the loss of culture through time. There is also a feel emanating from the book coming from a Communist-era society, the pressures of needing to fit in (vs. standing out), an overall melancholy (amidst the dark, ironic humor) that permeates some eastern European works of ...more
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La Plaisanterie / The Joke

I remember this has been a swift reading. That one is about some bloke writing jocularly a bold insult to the Czech Communist Party in a letter, then undergoing every kind of ostracism from every institution in his country. As the unravelling of an absurd but all too plausible succession of events, The Joke was great.


Ça fait un moment que je l'ai lu, mais je me souviens avoir aimé l'escalade complètement absurde qui suit la blague de Ludvik. Je me serais cru dans
Sep 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, novels
super annoying, super amazing.
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am disappointed to have ignored Milan Kundera for such a long time but Milan Kundera happened at the right time of my life. Doubts, questions that have been pounding in my head, deception, remorse and nostalgia-I found all that in the book.

No, the book was not the search of an almost recluse to discover parallel thoughts. ‘The Joke’ just happened. Yes there is a plot but the ideas and debates were what made the book effective. Uncanny and cruel be the fact that stray thoughts, innocent
Jul 06, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were definitely times when I wanted to breakdown about my own life while reading this book. I wanted to shake my fist and curse the powers that be for being cruel tricksters for playing us all in one long painful joke. However, what do you do at the end of the joke? Laugh. This book inspires you want to laugh too and to realize the futility of hanging on to every personal injustice that has been been committed against you; likely you are no better than the perpetrator, and he/she is no ...more
Lucie Novak
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
My favourite Kundera book. But will a non-Czech understand? Not sure.
The story of what happens to naive revolutionaries when they get older and want to re-live their youth?
Perfect psychological dissections, complicated plot.
If you want to understand 1968 Prague spring, read this book.
Sep 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: in-translation
It was all right. But god I am bored bored bored by misogyny. And a little angry, a little tired of our literary establishment.
After all, what I love in a woman is not what she is in and for herself, but the side of herself she turns towards me, what she is for me. I love her as a character in our common love story. What would Hamlet be without the castle at Elsinore, without Ophelia, without all the concrete situations he goes through, what would he be without the text of his part? What would
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read this in the Czech Republic once, to see it in its bare setting and atmosphere, although Kundera has really lived in Paris for quite some time. I've read many of Kundera's books and loved them, but many parts of the Czech Republic are positively stultifying, as Kafka conveyed and Kundera says more or less outright in this book. He is describing the atmosphere under Soviet-controlled communism of the past, but I won't take it back.

Funnily enough, The Joke, Kundera's first novel I think, has
Vilém Zouhar
Jun 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Second reading (aged 18):
Still beautiful. Exploring the social experiments made by the all too human post war era. Reading Květoslav Chvatík's book on Kundera was essential for understanding this book. I don't know how could I have lived without this before.

First reading (aged 16):
The Joke is composed of many jokes, which have strong effects on the characaters. The story is told from several viewpoints. It describes the suppression of intellectuals in totalitarian society. This book is rather
Sohini Sarker
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Oh just read it already!
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Reading birds: Laughter 137 36 Jan 23, 2020 10:22AM  
Milan Kundera, Nobel Prize 3 50 Feb 02, 2015 03:52AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Cowards
  • Romance pro křídlovku
  • Closely Watched Trains
  • Mr. Theodore Mundstock
  • Spalovač mrtvol
  • Blues pro bláznivou holku
  • Zahradní slavnost
  • Noc s Hamletem
  • I Served the King of England
  • May
  • Audience
  • Romeo, Julie a tma
  • The Elephant
  • Too Loud a Solitude
  • The Swell Season: A Text on the Most Important Things in Life
  • Love and Garbage
  • Saturnin
See similar books…
Milan Kundera is a Czech and French writer of Czech origin who has lived in exile in France since 1975, where he became a naturalized French citizen in 1981. He is best known for The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and The Joke.

Kundera has written in both Czech and French. He revises the French translations of all his books; these therefore are not considered
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“I was not a hypocrite, with one real face and several false ones. I had several faces because I was young and didn't know who I was or wanted to be.” 353 likes
“Yes, suddenly I saw it clearly: most people deceive themselves with a pair of faiths: they believe in eternal memory (of people, things, deeds, nations) and in redressibility (of deeds, mistakes, sins, wrongs). Both are false faiths. In reality the opposite is true: everything will be forgotten and nothing will be redressed. The task of obtaining redress (by vengeance or by forgiveness) will be taken over by forgetting. No one will redress the wrongs that have been done, but all wrongs will be forgotten.” 154 likes
More quotes…