The Art of The Novel Review by Milan Kundera

Content Summary

We will examine the book The Art of The Novel, in which novelist and thinker Milan Kundera shares his thoughts on the novel genre.
You can listen to The Art of The Novel review here.

The Art of The Novel Price Comparison

AmazonHarper Perennial Modern Classics
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A photo of Kundera taken in 1980

A photo of Kundera taken in 1980

Who is Milan Kundera?

Milan Kundera, who was born in Czechoslovakia in one thousand nine hundred twenty nine as the son of a middle-class musician father and teacher mother, completed his high school and university education in the same country. While he was studying literary works and aesthetics at the university, he transferred to the film academy and wrote two articles, but had to quit due to political pressures.


Milan Kundera, who had a politically turbulent life. After World War II, he became a member of the communist party but was expelled from the party. Even though he manages to re-enter, it doesn’t take long for him to be thrown out again. However, the final straw was his dismissal from his position at the Prague Academy of Music and Arts after the Russian invasion in one thousand nine hundred sixty eight, and Kundera moved to France. With the publication of his book The Book of Laughter and Forgetting in one thousand nine hundred seventy nine, the Czechoslovakian Government stripped Milan Kundera of his citizenship, and he became a French citizen in one thousand nine hundred and eighty one.

The author, who wrote most of his later works in French and spent his entire academic life at a university in France, is known as the last existentialist. He uses the musical knowledge he acquired, thanks to the piano he learned at a young age, partly because of his father, in his novels, structuring the rhythm of his narrative with the techniques he learned in music.

Summary of The Art of The Novel

The Art of the Novel consists of five speeches that Milan Kundera previously gave at various conferences and award ceremonies, an interview with Christian Salmon about his novels, and a short dictionary in which Kundera explains the meanings he attributes to words, which I found very interesting.

The interesting thing about the book, which consists of seven texts in total, is that although they were used at different times and in different places, the texts do not seem to have been brought together later. The reason for this was that Milan Kundera had the idea of combining these interviews and speeches in a book from the very beginning.

Topic of The Art of The Novel

If we talk about the topic of novel art, we need to start by quoting Milan Kundera:

“The soul of the novel is the soul of complexities. Every novel tells its reader: ‘Things are more complicated than you think.’” – Page 29

Milan Kundera says that the birth of the novel occurred when God began to be doubted.

“As God slowly left the place where he ruled the universe and the order of values, separated good from evil and gave meaning to everything, Don Quixote left his house and the world became unrecognizable. In the absence of the divine judge, the world was suddenly plunged into a suspicious haze; The single divine truth has fragmented into hundreds of relative values shared by humans. Thus, the world of the modern age was born, and with it the novel, which is its reflection and model.” – Page 18

The book focuses on the historical development of the novel genre and addresses Milan Kundera’s thoughts on the novel genre, after revealing the historical breaks the novel has undergone by referring to basic texts.

In particular, Kundera says that narrative texts should be understood only from themselves, and that one should not have to acquire new and detailed information other than general information in order to understand the narrative text. For example, he emphasizes that one can enjoy reading Don Quixote without knowing the history of Spain, and that it will be enough to have an idea about chivalry and castles.

“Is it necessary to know the history of Czechoslovakia to understand your novels?” When asked by Christian Salmon, he says that his novels tell themselves and there is no need for such a thing. This makes us feel that Milan Kundera is also against the Freudian perspective, which explains and interprets the text with the author’s life and experiences.

Emphasizing that the novel begins with Cervantes and that one of its basic elements is adventure, Kundera does not find it right to break away from this feature of the novel and says, “I am not attached to anything other than the legacy of Cervantes.” He summarizes by saying. He states that there are limits that should not be crossed in the novel genre, as in every field.

“There are anthropological limits that should not be crossed, for example the limits of memory. By the time you’re done reading, you should be able to remember the beginning. Otherwise, the novel will be disfigured. Its structural clarity becomes blurred.” – Page 74.

Quotes of The Art of The Novel

According to Kundera,

“Man is born without being asked, imprisoned in a body he did not choose, and it is his destiny to die. In contrast, world space provided him with a constant means of escape. A soldier could desert the army and start a new life in a neighboring country. In our century, the world has suddenly closed around us. The turning point in the world turning into a trap was undoubtedly (for the first time in history) the War of one thousand nine hundred fourteen, called the World War. – Page 35

Stefan Zweig says something similar: “Before one thousand nine hundred fourteen, the earth belonged to everyone.” says. However, after that date, the boundaries became clear. You need a passport to leave your country, and a reasonable justification and visa to go to another country. Just as it is not as easy to get away as it used to be, it is also not possible to stay away from somewhere with the development of communication tools. Everything that happens on earth is now your business.

According to Kundera, it is necessary to write novels for this reason, because historiography writes the history of society, not the history of people. The novel is about this person who wants to go away. However, the novel has changed a lot since its publication, and some changes have been negative. Kundera summarizes the current situation of the novel as follows:

The novel (like all culture) has increasingly fallen into the hands of the mass media; they extend and direct the process of reduction, as they are the officers of the unification of planetary history; They spread simplifications and clichés throughout the world that can be accepted by more people, by everyone, by all of humanity. – Page 28

However, the novel is an example of innovation, uncertainty, different perspectives and polysemy. For this reason, Kundera said, “If the novel really has to disappear, it is not because its power has run out, but because it is in a world that does not belong to it.” says.

General Evaluation of The Art of The Novel

Gürsel Korat, in his book The Structure of Fiction, said that the invention of perspective in painting completely changed human thought and art history. Because for the first time, thanks to perspective, people discovered that different perspectives have different results and became aware of multidimensional thinking. For this reason, Tolstoy included the other side in his novel for the first time in War and Peace, and people learned to think empathetically. It was with this break that the novel found its identity.

However, in today’s world, which is becoming increasingly sharp and has a crazy desire to classify and label existence, the multi-perspective, unclear and gray version of the novel does not meet expectations, so it is thought that the history of the novel may have come to an end.

For me, I don’t think there is ever an end. Even though the novel will not experience major historical breaks in the usual sense and seems to have come to an end in this sense, I am eagerly waiting for time to show us the new thing it will evolve into.

I recommend Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel to every reader who wants to create an intellectual background in the literary sense and gain even a little theoretical knowledge. If you are a writer, I think you should definitely read it. I’m sure you’ll find a lot to excite and guide you because Kundera gives you practical suggestions like a teacher, based on his experience rather than his philosophy.

I say take care of yourself until we see you in the next review and end my content with a quote from the art of novel that I really like.

“Life seems like a bright orbit lined with causes, effects, successes and failures, and man fixes his impatient gaze on the causal sequence of his actions, further accelerating his mad rush towards death.”

Lets slow down a bit. See you later.


The Art of The Novel Reviw by Milan Kundera
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Briefly My Opinion

I recommend Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel to every reader who wants to create an intellectual background in the literary sense and gain even a little theoretical knowledge. If you are a writer, I think you should definitely read it.

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