“At the time, I felt nothing but hatred for him, and hatred shines too bright a light on things, depriving them of relief. I saw him merely as a vindictive, wily rat. Now I see him above all as a young man playing a role. The young can’t help playacting; themselves incomplete, they are thrust by life into a completed world where they are compelled to act fully grown. They therefore adopt forms, patterns, models–those that are in fashion, that suit, that please–and enact them.
“Our boy commander too was incomplete, and he suddenly found himself at the head of a group of soldiers he couldn’t possibly understand; if he was able to come to grips with the situation, it was only because so much of what he had read and heard offered him a ready-made mask: the cold-blooded hero of the cheap thrillers, the young man with nerves of steel who outwits the criminal gang, the man of few words, calm, cool, with a dry wit and confidence in himself and the might of his own muscles. The more conscious he was of his boyish appearance, the more fanatical his devotion to the role of superman, the more forced his performance.
“Youth is terrible: it is a stage trod by children in buskins and a variety of costumes mouthing speeches they’ve memorized and fanatically believe but only half understand. And history is terrible because it so often ends up a playground for the immature; a playground for the young Nero, a playground for the young Bonaparte, a playground for easily roused mobs of children whose simulated passions and simplistic poses suddenly metamorphose into a catastrophically real reality.”
-from The Joke by Milan Kundera
Also, I love this quote on the cover of my copy, from John Updike’s review:
“A thoughtful, intricate, ambivalent novel with the reach of greatness in it.”
Doesn’t that sound like the perfect novel? Or what to strive for, anyway.