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Farewell Waltz

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In this dark farce of a novel, set in an old-fashioned Central European spa town, eight characters are swept up in an accelerating dance: a pretty nurse and her repairman boyfriend; an oddball gynecologist; a rich American (at once saint and Don Juan); a popular trumpeter and his beautiful, obsessively jealous wife; an disillusioned former political prisoner about to leave his country and his young woman ward.Perhaps the most brilliantly plotted and sheer entertaining of Milan Kundera's novels, Farewell Waltz ...

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In this dark farce of a novel, set in an old-fashioned Central European spa town, eight characters are swept up in an accelerating dance: a pretty nurse and her repairman boyfriend; an oddball gynecologist; a rich American (at once saint and Don Juan); a popular trumpeter and his beautiful, obsessively jealous wife; an disillusioned former political prisoner about to leave his country and his young woman ward.Perhaps the most brilliantly plotted and sheer entertaining of Milan Kundera's novels, Farewell Waltz poses the most serious questions with a blasphemous lightness that makes us see that the modern world has deprived us even of the right to tragedy.

Written in Bohemia in 1969-70, this book was first published (in 1976) in France under the title La valse aux adieux (Farewell Waltz), and later in thirty-four other countries. This beautiful new translation, made from the French text prepared by the novelist himself, fully reflects his own tone and intentions. As such it offers an opportunity for both the discovery and the rediscovery of one of the very best of a great writer's works.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060997007
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 249,723
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

The Franco-Czech novelist Milan Kundera was born in Brno and has lived in France, his second homeland, since 1975. He is the author of the novels The Joke, Farewell Waltz, Life Is Elsewhere, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Immortality, and the short-story collection Laughable Loves—all originally written in Czech. His most recent novels Slowness, Identity, and Ignorance, as well as his nonfiction works The Art of the Novel, Testaments Betrayed, The Curtain, and Encounter, were originally written in French.


For someone whom the world regards as a serious intellectual, Milan Kundera has a brilliantly twisted sense of humor. His novels depict a world of awkward orgies and disastrous pool parties, mad scientists and self-pitying poets who contract pneumonia out of spite. While Kundera's works tackle profound issues of human identity, they also playfully juggle ambiguities, ironies and paradoxes. "The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question," he said in a 1980 interview with Philip Roth. "There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead."

Kundera was born in Brno, Czechoslovkia in 1929. Like many young Czechs who had come of age during World War II and the German occupation, Kundera was attracted to Marxist philosophy, which seemed to promise a new freedom and peace. The first literary works he produced (three volumes of poetry and a play, The Owners of the Keys) were essentially Communist propaganda, though they didn't always conform to the tenets of socialist realism approved by the state. His resistance to the official restrictions on literature helped lead to his involvement with the "Prague Spring," the brief-lived reform movement toward "socialism with a human face."

During the '60s, Kundera began writing short stories, collected as Laughable Loves, which he would later identify as the beginning of his mature work. In several of them, jokes that start out as innocent pranks evolve into catastrophes for both perpetrator and victim -- they are deeds that, like the Czech version of Communism, have escaped the control of their creators. Kundera's first novel, The Joke, concerns a young man who is brought up on political charges after sending a teasing postcard to his girlfriend ("Optimism is the opium of the people!").

The Joke was published to wide acclaim shortly before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Following the invasion, Kundera was ousted from his film-studies teaching job, his books were pulled from libraries and bookstores, and he was forbidden to publish new work. He went on writing, however, and his novels Life Is Elsewhere and The Farewell Party were published outside his native country. Farcical and bleak, the novels developed what would become a recurring theme for Kundera, in which commitment to an abstract moral principle paves the way for corruption and evil.

In 1975, Kundera fled Czechoslovakia and settled in France, where he eventually became a citizen. His first book produced in exile, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, remains one of his most celebrated works, weaving together autobiographical reflections with a series of connected fictions. John Updike, writing in the New York Times, called it "brilliant and original, written with a purity and wit that invite us directly in; it is also strange, with a strangeness that locks us out." His next novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, also drew high praise, and the 1988 film version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche turned Kundera into something of a celebrity.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the political pressures that shaped his early life and works, Kundera has long insisted that the novel should be a work of art, not a political or ideological statement. By the '90s, Kundera had started to write his novels in French; he is now sometimes tagged a "Franco-Czech" author. His works are often described as "novels of ideas," but he resists the term "philosophical novel." As he said in an interview with Lois Oppenheim, "There are metaphysical problems, problems of human existence, that philosophy has never known how to grasp in all their concreteness and that only the novel can seize."

Good To Know

Kundera joined the Communist party while still in his teens, but was expelled in 1950 (an experience that helped inspire his 1967 novel The Joke). He was readmitted to the party in 1956, then expelled again in 1970.

Kundera's father played the piano, and Kundera himself studied music composition. He has often described his novels in musical terms as "polyphony," in which different voices are juxtaposed to build up a unified whole. As he told Philip Roth, the "various stories mutually explain, illumine, complement each other."

According to Kundera, there are four great European novelists: Franz Kafka, Hermann Broch, Robert Musil and Witold Gombrowicz. He has called the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal "our very best writer today."

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    1. Hometown:
      Paris, France
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 1, 1929
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brno, Czechoslovakia
    1. Education:
      Undergraduate degree in philosophy, Charles University, Prague, 1952

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Autumn has come and the trees are turning yellow, red, brown; the small spa town in its pretty valley seems to be surrounded by flames. Under the colonnades women are coming and going to lean over the mineral springs. These are women unable to bear children, and they are hoping to gain fertility from the thermal waters.

Men are far fewer among those taking the waters here, though some are to be seen, for beyond their gynecological virtues the waters are apparently good for the heart. Even so, for every male there are nine female patients, and this infuriates the unmarried young nurse who is in charge of the pool used by the women being treated for infertility.

Ruzena was born in the town, and her father and mother still live there. Would she ever escape from this place, from this dreadful multitude of women?

It is Monday, toward the end of her work shift. Only a few more overweight women to wrap in sheets, put to bed, dry the faces of, and smile at.

"Are you going to make that phone call or not?" two of her colleagues keep asking her; one is fortyish and buxom, the other younger and thin.

"Why wouldn't I?" says Ruzena.

"Then do it! Don't be afraid!" the fortyish one responds, leading her behind the changing-room cubicles to where the nurses have their wardrobe, table, and telephone.

"You should call him at home," the thin one remarks wickedly, and all three giggle.

"The theater number is the one I know," says Ruzena when the laughter has subsided.

It was an awful conversation. As soon as he heard Ruzena's voice on the phone he was terrified.

Women had always frightened him, even if none of them had ever believed him whenhe announced this, considering it a flirtatious joke.

"How are you?" he asked.

"Not very well," she replied.

"What's the matter?"

"I have to talk to you," she said pathetically.

It was exactly the pathetic tone he had been anticipating with terror for years.

"What?" he said in a choked voice.

She repeated: "I absolutely have to talk to you."

"What's the matter?"

"Something that affects both of us."

He was unable to speak. After a moment he repeated: "What's the matter?"

"I'm six weeks late."

Trying hard to control himself, he said: "It's probably nothing. That sometimes happens, and it doesn't mean anything."

"No, this time it's definite."

"It's not possible. It's absolutely impossible. Anyway, it can't be my fault."

She was upset. "What do you take me for, if you please!"

He was afraid of offending her because he was suddenly afraid of everything: "No, I'm not trying to insult you, that's stupid, why would I want to insult you, I'm only saying that it couldn't have happened with me, that you've got nothing to worry about, that it's absolutely impossible, physiologically impossible."

"In that case it's no use talking," she said, increasingly upset. "Pardon me for disturbing you."

He worried she might hang up on him. "No, no, not at all. You were quite right to phone me! I'll be glad to help you, that's certain. Everything can certainly be arranged."

"What do you mean, 'arranged'?"

He was flustered. He didn't dare call the thing by its real name: "Well . . . you know . . . arranged."

"I know what you're trying to say, but don't count on it! Forget that idea. I'd never do it, even if I have to ruin my life."

Again he was paralyzed by fear, but this time he timidly took the offensive: "Why did you phone me, if you don't want me to talk? Do you want to discuss it with me or have you already made up your mind?"

"I want to discuss it with you."

"I'll come to see you."


"I'll let you know."

"All right."

"Well, see you soon."

"See you soon."

He hung up and returned to his band in the small auditorium.

"Gentlemen, the rehearsal's over," he said. "I can't do any more right now."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2010

    Excellent work by one of this century's best authors

    I thoroughly enjoyed this novel by one of my favorite writers, Milan Kundera. I found it to be a little more uplifting than some of his other work, and definitely recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2002

    It is a fascinating story.

    I like the way how Milan Kundera analizes different characters in his books and represents how situations change their life.It is like theatrical play where unrelated, different characters somehow involve eachother's life.I really enjoyed reading 'the farewell Waltz'.

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