Saturday, February 9, 2013

Five top books on life behind the Iron Curtain

Philip Sington is the author of The Einstein Girl, Zoia’s Gold, and, his latest novel, The Valley of Unknowing.

One of five top books on life behind the Iron Curtain that he named for the Wall Street Journal:
The Joke
by Milan Kundera (1967)

Milan Kundera's debut tells the story of Ludvik, a student in Prague who, jealous of his girlfriend's naive devotion to the Communist Party, sends her a postcard poking fun at socialist sloganizing. The result is a sense-of-humor failure par excellence, on the part of his girlfriend and everyone else. His studies terminated, Ludvik ends up doing military service down the mine. Years later he sets out to avenge himself on the principal agent of his downfall by seducing the man's wife. Nothing goes according to plan, and in the unraveling that follows the entrails of Ludvik's world (interior and exterior) are laid bare. "The Joke" had a tortuous time at the hands of Western editors, whose first four English versions, according to the author, bore little resemblance to the original. Perhaps it's no surprise: The book has multiple narrators; the action jumps about in time and space; Moravian folk traditions are explained at length (illustrated with musical notation). But "The Joke" was truly seminal. Grittier than the author's later successes, it poses all the essential Kunderian questions—about free will, love and the seemingly irresistible forces of history—with a freshness that is all its own.
Read about the other books on Sington's list.

The Joke is one of Ray French's top 10 black comedies.

Visit Philip Sington's website.

Writers Read: Philip Sington.

The Page 69 Test: The Valley of Unknowing.

My Book, The Movie: The Valley of Unknowing.

--Marshal Zeringue