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Milan Kundera: Život je jinde (Life Is Elsewhere)

This is the story of poet Jaromil who is made, in more ways than one, by his mother. We follow Jaromil’s relatively short life and career – from birth to death and we follow his mother’s interventions, too. But Jaromil is not a poet to be admired, except as we might admire him purely because he is a poet. He betrays his girlfriend’s brother to the police, he is under the thumb of his mother and his writing is little more than masturbation (one of the chapters is actually called The Poet Masturbates – Kundera does not believe in pulling his punches). In short, he is not a poet in touch with reality and real people but a naive, an innocent. Indeed, like Rimbaud (and Kundera makes the connection, from the opening quotation to the comparison with Rimbaud’s funeral at the end), Jaromil may be seen as the poète maudit, the accursed poet. But, for me, it does not really work, lacking the wit and inventiveness of his later novels. Maybe it should be sub-titled Kundera Masturbates.

Publishing history

First published in Czech by Sixty-Eight Publishers in 1979 (first published in French in 1973)
First published in English by Knopf in 1974
Translated by Aaron Asher