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Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts Hardcover – September, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Milan Kundera, one of the twentieth century's masters of fiction and author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Immortality, offers a brilliant and thought provoking essay, following in the tradition of his highly regarded The Art of the Novel. Testaments Betrayed is written like a novel: the same characters appear and reappear throughout the nine parts of the book, as do the principal themes that preoccupy the author. Kundera once again celebrates the art of the novel, from its birth in a spirit of humor unique to European culture and sensibility - illustrated by some wonderful examples from the work of Rabelais and Cervantes - through its flowering in successive centuries. He celebrates the particular wisdom the novel offers about human existence.

From Publishers Weekly

In this stimulating, free-form essay, Czech novelist Kundera (The Art of the Novel) traces the evolution of the novel from Rabelais to Kafka and draws parallels between literature and music as he shuttles effortlessly among Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Chopin, Thomas Mann, Bach and Andre Breton. The betrayals implied by the title include conductor Ernest Ansermet's rejection of the music of his erstwhile friend Igor Stravinsky; the halfhearted support for Salman Rushdie by intellectuals who misconstrued his Satanic Verses as an attack on religious faith; and Hemingway biographer Jeffrey Meyers's "kitsch-making" interpretations, which, in Kundera's view, confuse Hemingway's life with his fiction. Another alleged "testament betrayed" involves Max Brod, Kafka's friend and literary executor, accused here of promoting an image of Kafka as saintly martyr. Because of Brod, Kundera argues, Kafka's works tend to be read either as autobiographical or as religious allegories instead of as "the real world transformed by an immense imagination." First serial to the New York Review of Books.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; 1st edition (September 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060171456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060171452
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,453,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Robert White on June 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most important books I've ever read. It is of interest, of course, to people involved with literature, music, translation, or who are interested in Kafka, Picasso, Hemmingway, Stravinsky, or others Kundera talks about. But I think the real importance of this book applies to any reader. It has to do with Milan Kundera's beautiful illustrations as to how we as humans try to make our own heroes everyone else's heroes, too, and in the process destroy many of the things we value and love about them. This is a vital idea in the modern world, where celebrity, biography, and voyeurism are always so present. Also, the statements Kundera makes on the nature of friendship inspire deep reflection on the qualities of our relationships with those we hold dear.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a moving book, written in Kundera`s clear, humorous style which talks about the novel and warns us from distortions of novels` meanings by translators who do not understand the authors. Kundera`s love for his art and breadth of vision is astounding and his teachings on life and philosophy on which this book is based on are very inspiring. Reading this brilliant masterpiece we will learn one thing: history- we can never get rid of history: "how sweet it would be to forget that monster". The suitable book for lover`s of Milan Kundera.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 19, 1997
Format: Paperback
In Testaments Betrayed, Kundera describes the waning days of modernism (focusing on the novel) in an historical (and at times hysterical) light. But what makes this book of interest to people who usually like to read novels rather than critiques of novels, is Kundera's marvelous ability to combine the lucid explanation and analysis of ideas with marvelous wit that seems almost foreign to serious tone of most modern literary criticism. In reading Testaments Betrayed I repeatedly experienced the wonderfully paradoxical feeling of laughing because of the profoundness, the very seriousness of Kundera's ideas
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Eitan on March 22, 2013
Format: Paperback
Kundera's essays are wide-ranging, challenging, and totally worthwhile. Following up on 'The Art of the Novel,' Kundera argues for an artistic approach to the novel, tackling along the way music, ethics, and many other topics. It is also really pleasurable to read, which isn't at all trivial. Since reading 'Testaments Betrayed,' I have lent my copy to quite a few friends and bought copies for others.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on April 22, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The fact that friends or opera bosses didn't respect the scores or the testaments of artists or had the power to impose their own vision on other's work, is for Milan Kundera an occasion to reflect on the history and rules of art and the novel, the freedom of the artist and ultimately, on freedom of speech.
His main examples are Franz Kafka (Max Brod didn't respect his testament which ordered to destroy all non published work) and Leos Janácek (whose opera score was `adapted' by an opera director).

Art has an autonomous status, its own laws. Art is not an imitation of reality. It is a unique expression of an individual. It is therefore logical that this individual possesses all rights over a work that emanates exclusively from him.
Moreover, one doesn't need biographical furor (Sainte-Beuve), to know the writer, painter or composer in order to understand his work. As Marcel Proust states: 'a book is the product of a self, other than the self we manifest in our habits.'
Milan Kundera detests also those critics who interpret a work of art with their own political, philosophical, religious convictions (see Adorno's scandalous critic of Stravinsky's music).

Essential for the novel are the facts that it is a realm where moral judgment is suspended, that there are no dogmas of psychological realism and that it breaks through the plausibility barrier with fantasy and humor (Rabelais, Cervantes) in order to apprehend better the real world.
It is evident that in these conditions art can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of political, religious, social, cultural, sexual, -in one word -, critical opponents of established powers. In the Rushdie case, `the guardians of the temple were powerless against a novel.
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