Life Is Elsewhere – Milan Kundera

“Is a novel anything but a trap set for a hero?” 

As you read “Life Is Elsewhere”, you’re likely to feel the same for the book’s protagonist, Jaromil, who is a young aspiring poet. Born of a somewhat forced marriage, Jaromil is the apple of his mother’s eye. Having lost the love of her husband, the mother dedicates her life to looking after her son. She loves him dearly and supports all of his creative pursuits. She believes he is truly talented and ardently praises the poetry which he writes. Jaromil becomes so used to the constant praise and affection from his mother, that he is unable to face any criticism. 

At some point he starts to get suffocated by his mother’s love and affection. He realizes that it has hindered him more than anything. His mother’s love has served to make him an outcast. He slowly starts to distance himself from his mother, but unfortunately realizes that when things go wrong he needs to run back to his mother. He turns his rebellion against his mother into efforts to participate in the revolution brewing in the country at that time. He gets embroiled in the Communist Revolution, during which he continues on his quest to become a famous poet. 

The book follows the unfortunate boy’s journey from childhood through adolescence to eventual adulthood. 

Character Development

The book explores the complex relationship between mother and son, and how it affects everything Jaromil tries to do. They are the primary characters in the book. The other interesting characters include an “artist” who teaches Jaromil art, Jaromil’s love interests and a police officer who is possibly Jaromil’s only friend. Though none of the characters are particularly likeable, the author imbues them with several layers of complexities and each one is as interesting and difficult to understand as a fellow human being is. 

“Draw a line; draw a line that pleases you. And remember that it is not the artist’s role to copy the outlines of things but to create a world of his own lines on paper.” 

Writing Style

When I started reading the book initially, I actually abandoned it about 70 pages into the book. However, I blame that on time commitment issues. I recently picked it up and completed it. The second half of the novel becomes so gripping that I couldn’t put it down towards the end. I was tempted to skip pages to see what happens in the end. So, even if you feel bored towards the beginning, I would say it’s worth it to plod along. Initially, the author takes a while to build the characters and spends a little too much time describing Jaromil’s beginnings as a poet. This can only be appreciated once you reach the end of the novel and realize the implications. 

The author’s greatest talent is the detached way in which he is able to explore complicated human relationships, emotions and thoughts. He traverses the intricacies of the human mind and exposes the often selfish reasons which an ordinary person is usually motivated by to pursue a certain path in life. 

Author Trivia

I’m sure you’ve all heard of Milan Kundera. However, I’ll elaborate a little on his life, as it’s significantly influenced his writings. He is a Czech and French writer of Czech origin who has lived in exile in France since 1975, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1981.

Due to censorship by the Communist government of Czechoslovakia, his books were banned from his native country, and that remained the case until the downfall of this government in the Velvet Revolution in 1989

Overall Verdict

Rating: 4/5 (I’m not giving it 5 because of the relatively slow beginning) 

Should you read it: Yes, definitely

Light/Medium/Heavy Read: Medium

Grab the book before the weekend ends – it’s the only time you’ll get to read a book in peace! 

Source: Goodreads (Author Bio)

2 thoughts on “Life Is Elsewhere – Milan Kundera

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