Life Is Elsewhere – Book Review: A Novel by Czech Writer Milan Kundera
A budding poet and his mother are the central character’s of this brilliant book by Milan Kundera. It gives an incredibly candid account of the neurosis that many will have gone through in their adolescence and eventually in their adulthood. Kundera’s insight is both sad and funny but is always gripping.
Plot Summary: Life Is Elsewhere
Set in the author’s home country of the Czech Republic, this book follows the life of a poet from his accidental conception to his sudden death. The poet soon becomes the centre of his mother’s life as her marriage falls apart. No sooner can Jaromil write, than has his mother declares him a poet. As he grows up he tries to live up to the expectations of greatness his mother has bestowed upon him, before trying to rebel against her overbearing love.
Despite his best efforts to forge himself a life free from his mother’s ever watchful eye he can never escape her influence. He becomes a fervent follower of the communist party as a way of carving his own identity. His attempts prove futile as his mother retains her hold on all areas of his life, from his work to the clothes he wears and even the women he loves.
Themes in Life Is Elsewhere
Like many of Milan Kundera’s books, Life is Elsewhere, written in 1973, has several typically existentialist themes. He examines an individual’s search for meaning in their life amid the absurdity, alienation, boredom and angst it often brings. While Kundera deals with issues most people grapple with at some point in their lives, he does so with a refreshing and candid originality.
The book’s narrative begins before the second world war and ends as the Czech’s communist revolution gathers pace. The rise of socialism soon becomes central to the story and shines light on how the country’s political change came to affect the lives of its artists and intellectuals.
Facts About Milan Kundera
- He was born in 1929 and later joined the communist party of Czechoslovakia in 1948.
- He wrote several novels and novellas, as well as essays (such as The Art of the Novel) and poetry.
- His books typically feature fiction with philosophical digression.
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being, written in 1984, is his most well-known book and is a modern classic.
- He is commonly viewed as an existentialist writer although he rejects this label. He has often said he is a writer without a message.
- In 2008 he denied claims that he denounced a Western intelligence agent in his country when he was a student.
- He was exiled to France because of his opposition to the soviet-led invasion in 1968. This made him a target of the communist secret party.
- He has lived in France since 1975 and became a naturalised citizen in 1981.