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Life is Elsewhere Paperback – 4 Sep 2000

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (4 Sept. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571197779
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571197774
  • Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 2 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 213,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Tender and unsparing..."Life Is Elsewhere is a remarkable portrait of an artist as a young man."--"Newsweek"I will say no more about this lacerating book except to urge it upon all who care about literature in our difficult era."--"Boston Globe"A sly and merciless lampoon of revolutionary romanticism...Kundera commits some of the funniest literary savaging since Evelyn Waugh polished off Dickens in "A Handful of Dust."--"Time

Book Description

Life is Elsewhere by Milan Kundera is an intriguing early novel from the hugely acclaimed Czech novelist and author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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By A Customer on 2 Oct. 2001
Format: Paperback
I read this book for the first time when I was sixteen and it was the first intelligent fiction I had come across. Since then I have re-read it many times. I still love it. The characters in the book may be one-dimensional, but its a big dimension. I like the fact the characters dont seem to change who they are, but rather just change externally according to where they are in their lives. It does seem that Milan Kundera has chosen one characteristic for each person and built on that. And its fantastic the way he does it. And I think he does that in all his novels. This is my favorite of his.
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Format: Paperback
Kundera’s second novel is a portrait of an artist as a young man, and not an especially likeable one at that. Mostly set during World War II (when Czechoslovakia was under German occupation) and the early years of communist rule, it follows the childhood and adolescence of Jaromil from birth through his loss of virginity to his attempts to make a mark on life. Jaromil exhibits the hallmarks of many adolescents, including self-absorption and a self-serving attitude regarding the consequences of his own actions. But this is not just a coming of age novel, for it is also, in passing, about the relation between a mother and her son, the role of art in times of revolution, the writing of poetry and the sartorial consequences of postwar undergarment manufacturing. If some of this sounds rather heavy, it is worth noting that the novel also has a dash of wry humour, sometimes shading into satire. To my mind it is not as good as ‘The Joke’ or the novels that principally made Kundera’s name, ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’ and ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, but Kundera is always worth reading, and some of his literary trademarks are in evidence here, including his troubling portrayals of women, who seem to exist principally in relation to sex; sometimes I wonder if the sexual promiscuity of Kundera’s characters is something they practice in lieu of other freedoms. Those freedoms, curtailed by the Czechoslovak communist state, take on importance in an episode towards the end of the novel, where one character turns informer. The event grows in significance if one follows up what became known as the Miroslav Dvoracek controversy, in which Kundera was himself accused of having been an informer in the 1950s.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I always find it difficult to endorse books that feature a protagonist I dislike. In Gunter Grass' 'The Tin Drum' Oskar almost drove me insane with his delusional egoism and pettiness. I couldn't stand him, and that had a big impact on my enjoyment-of and perception-of the novel.

Of course there is no reason why literature featuring flawed or dislikable characters can't still be excellent, but I have to flag my own bias here. How can I recommend a book whose characters I find more irritating than engaging or thought-provoking?

'Life Is Elsewhere' returned me to this difficult position. The book focuses primarily on a young poet, Jaromil, and his changing relationships to society, art and women (particularly his mother). In the beginning he is a potential poet-prodigy bursting with talent and enthusiasm. This Jaromil I grew quite fond of. He reminded me of a character Hermann Hesse might create.

But as the book progresses, Jaromil makes many questionable choices motivated by pettiness, jealousy and insecurity. He moves from the dream-like and aspirational world of the poet to the cruel, "real" world of power and politics. I won't reveal anything more on the book's arc other than to say that in the end Jaromil had become someone that I hated, and I found this transition dispiriting. (No doubt Kundera's intention.)

Kundera is at his best when he digresses from the plot to follow historical anecdotes or philosophical musings. His prose can flow beautifully, which render his ambitious pronouncements on the nature of humankind as intoxicating as they fantastic. Some of his observations of the dynamics between mother and son were brilliant.

This is an engaging and well-constructed novel that perhaps deserves four stars - but Jaromil's lapse into pettiness still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth that pushes me towards three. What a shame there are no half-stars to be had. Still worth your time.
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Format: Paperback
Written shortly after the Prague Spring of 1967, this is a neglected masterpiece. While keeping the focus away from the dismal political drama that was unfolding in his country, there is no doubt that every page of this book is imbued with the darkness of the period. At the same time, it is amazing to reflect on the power thet poetry enjoyed in those days - poems could be acts of defiance, rebellion, betrayal or capitulation in a way that would be inconceivable in our consumption obsessed culture.

Kundera's protagonists are not unsympathetic at all, but nor do they invite quick and simple identification and empathy. They are portrayed in all their complexity, ambivalence and looming madness. The book has several unexpected and throughly convincing turns and Kundera's weaving of incidents and stories from different poets (most of whom died young) in his narrative is very skillful.

A wonderful novel then, though one that yields its secrets slowly to the patient reader.
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