Czech's legendary writer



The Czech Republic has its share of controversial writers (not to mention filmmakers - Hrabal, Kafka, and Milan Kundera, whose anti-Party stance tended to get him in trouble with the authorities, and his trouble with the ladies tended to get him labeled as a misogynist (hey, it worked for Hemmingway…). Kundera was an extremely private person and guarded his personal life, which he said was “nobody’s business.” Influenced by Czech structuralism, he thought that literary texts should be perceived on their own merits, without the interference of factors outside the book, like the author’s personal life. Of course, it could be argued that it is impossible to have an objective biography, especially with a writer as dynamic as Kundera.

Kundera was born on 1 April 1929 in Brno, Czechoslovakia. His father was a Czech musicologist and pianist, and Kundera was taught music from a young age; later, musical themes would appear in most of his novels. He completed secondary school in Brno in 1948, then studied literature and aesthetics but soon switched to the Film Academy in Prague, which he graduated in 1952; that year, he was first appointed as a lecturer in world literature at the Film Academy.

Kundera tended to have a complicated relationship with the Communist Party. He belonged to group of young Czechs who didn’t remember pre-war Czechoslovakia, and were mostly influenced by WWII and the German occupation, which propelled them towards Marxism and Party membership. He joined the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1948, but then was expelled for “anti-party activities” in 1950, an event that would greatly influence him and later appeared in his thinly-veiled autobiographical novel The Joke; he re-joined in 1956 and was re-expelled in 1970. Afterwards, he was also expelled from the University, lived among workmen, played the trumpet in a jazz band and wrote poetry. He eventually became disillusioned with the communist system, and in a conference in 1967 called for freedom of writers, stressing the importance of preserving a separate Czech identity, which could only be done if Czech literature and culture are allowed to develop in complete freedom. Optimistic, no?

Kundera’s first book came out in 1953 (Man, a Wide Garden – a collection of poetry); his poetry displayed a critique of “socialist realism,” though still from a Marxist point of view. He tended to reject political propaganda as a theme and instead stressed the importance of natural, authentic human experience. Later, he began to write plays that were actually staged, in an attempt to humanize communism from within its own framework. Kundera eventually came to disown the first 30 years of his life, and the first thing he wrote of importance to him is the first story in the short story collection Laughable Loves, when his “life of a writer began.”

After the Prague Spring in 1968, Kundera was dismissed from his teaching post at the Prague Film Academy, and his books were banned and withdrawn from bookshops and libraries. Paradoxically, after that he experienced the feeling of total freedom in writing, because he knew no censor would be reading his books. Thus in 1975 he emigrated to France with his wife, where he taught at the University of Rennes, moved to Paris in 1978, where he completed his masterpiece, The Unbearable Lightness of Being in 1982, which won him international recognition.

In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera presents the lack of values as lightness; necessity, weight, and value are three concepts inextricably bound: only necessity is heavy, and only what is heavy has value. Kundera’s critique of human relationships is interlaced with his critique of the communist system, which obviously made him quite unpopular with the authorities at the time (luckily he was hiding away in France). Though largely philosophical and inevitably influenced by Kundera’s surroundings and experiences in Prague and with the Czechoslovak Communist Party, Kundera’s novels remain popular because they elevate the specific contexts and characters to the universal; the problems faced by characters in 1960s-70s Czechoslovakia are not really that different from the problems faced by us today. In fact, it can be argued that Kundera’s novels are driven by exactly what drives most people – inter-human relationships, addictions, and sex.

Since the fall of communism, Kundera has adopted France as his home and rarely goes back to the Czech Republic, even switching to writing in French in 1995. Though works can be philosophical, Kundera himself is not a proponent of any specific school of thinking.


add your comments

He is just another bloody communist from fifties and he will never change and never be something else. He never appologised to victims of bolshevism and he should do it morning, noon and evening. Bolshevics have no moral at all and they never change. He never denounced his bolshevic colleague Havel. Another criminal without any moral able just to lie, hide and steal. Those people without moral make this world such an ugly place. Should be legal to shoot them.

reviewed by antibloshevik from Czech Republic on Nov.13.2012

An excellent piece showcasing this writer, Milan Kundera has beautifully strung into words the thoughts I have felt deep in my heart my entire life. I have been touched by several of his novels and plan on eventually owning all of them.

It is partially because of him that I have taken such an interest in the history/philosophy of the difference between the ideals of the Eastern and Western world, and as a matter of fact I am now spending an exchange year abroad in Poland because of this interest.

I only hope some day I can meet this wonderful man.

reviewed by Yarra from United States on May.14.2012

I need milan kundera's email address.I researched but I didnt find anywhere..we are as a theatre gruop prepearing his theatre game(owner of keys) and we need to talk with him about his theatre game...if u have and send me or information about how can I reach him,i will be happy,thank you for everything now...

reviewed by osman from Turkey on Feb.16.2012

I would appreciate to find a way to write or relate my thoughts to Mr Kundera. I am eighteen and i need to be enlightened on what seems to be a persistent weariness in my life. Any email adresses, web pages or forums are needed. Thank you.

reviewed by Chiara from Italy on Nov.27.2011

I read my first Kundera book when I was 16 (I'm 31 now) and have read most of them, not all of them, taking it slow, as you do with gurmant food trying to enjoy it as long as you can.
I was thrilled when it appearded in my curriculum a few years ago, I thought it would be the best time ever talking about his novels in class. But it was terrible, at least for me, for I realized, it was so personal for me. Every time, every age it talked to me and answered exactly what I was curious about at the time. To react to Anna's (from Kazasthan) comment: I don't think he writes about how things should be, I think he writes about how they are, capturing men's and women's conscious and subconscious motivation, drives and the deepest sense of their personality

One of the things that thrills me was how well he understands (the soul of)women. I have not read Kundera for some time now, but yesterday I had a dream that I was going to have dinner with him. Talking about subconscious.. hahaha
Keep on, Mr. Kundera

reviewed by Susanna from Hungary on Jun.13.2011

My mother lived in the same apartment building as him in Paris for a while in the eighties. Maybe he still lives there...

reviewed by T-Rex from Australia on Oct.18.2010

So with great pleasure I threw away books of Mr.Kundera! In his books he mixed politics and love, he athorised libral love without any sens of reponsability, unrespect and true love.And People using it as bible in their life. So my husband activle was using comments from his book that athorised him to unrespect and cheat his wife publically. He told her that she is Tereza and he is loving her... ! So my husband decided to be dk. Thomas playing politic, having thousand lovers and coming back home to nice Tereza, our life was exactly like in this roman.
But the end hopefully is not the same:)
M. Kundera you forgot about value of FAMILY !
I think people who decided to write books in same time have to realise their reponsability and influence of their literature.
For example: author A. Blok - im loving to read him, however his roman "Lolita" is a best book for pedos ... So Mr. Kundera please stop to play a God !
cepedant je dois vous pardoner!

Anna - girl from Kazakhstan and Poland actually living in Lyon.

reviewed by Anna from Kazakhstan on Sep.07.2010

I just wanted to say to Kundera, that I read every sentence you write in your novels. All of them. I just thought you should know there are readers out here like me.

reviewed by Eric from United States on Jul.19.2010

Kundera, since I read your books I know that it will be a magic travel with you.
I love all the books that I found from you, your passionate characters and the melancolic recollections.
I am not exaggerated, you were a turning point in my life. Thank you for teaching ourselves to open our eyes or, at least, to know of your storytales.
With love
Olga MK

reviewed by Olga M, Kolchik from Mexico on Jul.14.2010

Mr. Kundera, i just want to tell how important was your novel for me, the unbearable lightness of being represents many ideas about life and "love" that i share, i'm a medicine student living in mexico, i don't know if you will read this message, but for me is very importan to tell you the way your work chance my way of thinking, i hope you health and joy, i know it's very difficult to know you, but i would to know you read this.

Thank you so much for writing the unbearable lightness of being

reviewed by Antonio Praiz from Mexico on Jun.13.2010

I appreciate if someone can send me privately the email of Milan Kundera. I want to ask him for a favor. I know he is a busy person, but this is something important. At least for me. I live in California. US.

reviewed by Altec from United States on May.28.2010

KUNDERAS CREATION. METOMORPHOSIS OF EMOTIONS. IT IS DISCUSS WITH ARTIST AND ART OF DURATION OF METAPHYSICS. BEING , DYING, WRITING.... THAT IS MILAN KUNDERA.

reviewed by RAKESH NATH / WRITER from India on Feb.09.2010

Mr.Kundera is surely a literary legend of our times who will mark the age of modernist writing as we know it. His narrtive modes can inspire a whole new approach to story telling. His theorem of "Litost" in 'The Book of Laughter and Forgetting' is priceless in understanding emotion-politics that we all present and perform in the larger landscape of state-politics.He is truly a prodigy.

reviewed by Dilshan Boange from Sri Lanka on Dec.17.2008

I teach literature in Mexico. My high school students have loved "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". I just want to say that Sabina's longing of the two lighted windows has haunted me always as well as her despair. Thomas, Teresa and Sabina are some of the most memorable characters of all times. To have a bunch of mexican 17 year olds thinking this is their favorite novel of all times is the best reward an author could have.

reviewed by maria from Mexico on Apr.30.2008

Tatyana, i absolutely agree with you and your thoughts. Kundra for president...

reviewed by Luka from Bosnia on Apr.07.2008

Dear Mr. Kundera- I do not know if this message ever will reach you, but I want to express my total admiration of your life and your work!
You are a great writer and philosopher of our time! I have read some of your books and my project is to read them all, you never repeat, you are always different, full of great stories and great thoughts!
I am Russian, came to the USA 14 years ago, many of events in your personal life and my life are the same, I share most of your thoughts about life in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.
One more time I would like to say how much I enjoy reading your books, how much pleasure I have reading your book,especially Immortality-how brilliant it is!
Thanks again and I wish you a great health and many new novels and essays.
And of course I would like to meet you and shake your hand with all gratitude!

reviewed by TATYANA from United States on Apr.03.2008

What city in France does Milan Kundera live in? I have read and reread all his works and would love to meet him...a previous post says that his favorite cafe is by the castle....what castle is that? Maybe I could be lucky enough to bump into him....

reviewed by aleksandra from United States on Mar.12.2008

Love his books... would love to meet him.

My favourite is Immortality.

anybody know how to get in touch with Milan Kundera? Please email me privately...

thanks.

reviewed by Michael from Singapore on Dec.09.2007

"Since the fall of communism, Kundera has adopted France as his home and rarely goes back to Czechoslovakia..."

This might be because Czechoslovakia has seized to exist since 1993. Perhaps this should read Czech Republic.

reviewed by Johnny Dimas from United States on Apr.23.2007

Kundera is a very private man, so probably your best bet would be to wander about the city as much as possible cos you won't track him down otherwise. I heard one of his favorite cafes is right by the castle.

reviewed by Dagny from United States on Feb.21.2007

i just like the idea of meeting Milan Kundera accidentally somewhere in subway or anywhere else, as it is quite impossible to meet him by appointment, i think....he has no web page, no contact, you can just contact his publisher (Gallimard, for example.....). Any other idea? I am very interested....

reviewed by Martin Madera from Czech Republic on Feb.16.2007