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Life Is Elsewhere Paperback – July 25, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


"Tender and unsparing...Life Is Elsewhere is a remarkable portrait of an artist as a young man." -- --Newsweek

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French, Czech

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st edition (July 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060997028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060997021
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #246,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Rasband VINE VOICE on October 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is Kundera's most harrowing book because his hero is a monster. He doesn't mean to be a monster, of course. He is Jaromil, a dreamy young man who only wants to write lyric poetry. But this is Czechoslovakia, 1948 and the Communists are about to seize power. And they know how to make use of a well-meaning young naif like Jaromil who will end up writing propaganda and betraying his friends to the secret police. Kundera is ruthlessly funny about the kind of sentimentality that ends up serving totalitarian ends. A French critic wrote that "Life is Elsewhere" is "the strongest work ever written against poetry." I would amend that to say it's the one of the strongest books ever written against *Romanticism*. Kundera is completely unenthralled by Utopia. He's seen too many people sent to the gulag in the name of the perfect society. A thrilling, essential novel.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on February 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
Fidel Castro and his bearded men charged down out of the Sierra Maestra and paraded victorious through the streets of Havana to delirious cheers of adoring crowds. Mao Tsetung arrived with his vast armies at Beijing and declared that "China had stood up". The `Internationale' played and a brave new world began. We dreamed we would change the world as youths, we might die for a great cause, we yelled at barricades (of whatever material-or perhaps they were intangible) and loved with the passions of the times. Repression of anybody (except "the exploiters") never appeared on the cards, no, it was freedom in the air. Hasn't this atmosphere repeated itself time and time again, across the globe ? And there's always a poet or two to inscribe glorious verses on the stones of History. Byron, Mayakovsky, Rimbaud, Marti, Rizal. But what if `the Revolution' ushers in a period of less freedom, greater oppression, and wider stupidity that leads to mass fatalities ? Then what kind of poet would you need ? Well, what kind do you get ? Artists who paint girl + tractor. Novelists who write books called "Cement". And poets like Jaromil, the subject of this great novel. Fidel called the people who fled the new Cuba "gusanos" or worms. Reading Kundera's novel about Czechoslovakia, you feel strongly that the gusanos remained and cooperated, wrote poetry in praise of the unpraise-able. Or, maybe there's a global glut of gusanos. Maybe a gusano poet is about as necessary as wings on a turtle.
OK, this novel is a fictional biography of a very weedy mama's boy who remains naïve, protected and innocent despite everything that happens around him, even the death of his father in a concentration camp. The world around the main characters, the society at large, remain pale and nearly invisible.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Hyun-Jung Lee on October 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
I finally borrowed another of Milan Kundera's books to read from the university library. I didn't enjoy it as much as I did The Unbearable Lightness of Being. However there were still a lot of incisive and thoughtful passages.

What I like most about Milan Kundera is his marvelous skill in capturing the essence of his thoughts in words, and also the thoughts themselves which reveal a kindred soul in deep contemplation of human and life. Whenever I read his books, I feel a longing to write something as deeply revealing as his books.

Life is Elsewhere is about the life of a young poet named Jaromil. The viewpoint is erected at his demise, as the writer tells us. The poet and his mother's relationship are one of the main subjects in this book. The writer says he meant to name the book The Lyric Age but changed the title at the last moment because the publishers worried that no one would buy a book with such an abstract title.

Many critics see this book as a satire of literature, of literary talent, and of life. However, as I read the book, I didn't perceive it as a satire. I felt it to be honest, sometimes brutally so, but still with sympathy and self-pity wrapped around it. Every aspiring artist is bound to go through some of what Jaromil went through.

It especially makes one wonder how literary genius can be defined or if it even can be defined. The writer himself writes in the preface that Jaromil is not a bad poet. I kept that in mind as I read the book. Jaromil is in fact a very sensitive though naive and immature poet. Nobody can be the absolute judge of literary talent.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. Sonderegger on July 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Life is Elsewhere" is a fun, humorous, scathing criticism of youth, lyricism, and poetry. Unlike some of Kundera's other work, "Life is Elsewhere" has very few subplots, and focuses mainly on the story of Jaromil (and briefly on his bizarre alter-ego, Xavier) and his mother. Jarmoil is a poet, growing up in Czechoslovakia just as that country becomes Communist. Idealistic, overprotected, obsessive at times, and ideologically misguided, Jaromil lives and dies according to rapidly changing principles and goals which are often patently ridiculous.
I found "Life is Elsewhere" enjoyable, but not as much so as Kundera's more complex and multifacted novels, such as "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "Immortality". I personally find Kundera's usual overt cynicism, philosophising, and self-analysis refreshing and fun to read, but there's little of that in this book. To me, the book seems to violate Kundera's assertion that he writes books that cannot be described in a sentence or two - it is a novel in the conventional sense of the word. That doesn't make it unenjoyable -- it's just different.
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