Milan Kundera 1929–
Czechoslovakian novelist, dramatist, and poet.
Kundera is one of Czechoslovakia's most important authors, even though much of his work has been banned in his own country and he has lived in Paris since 1975. Rejecting the tenets of socialist realism promoted by the Communist regime under Joseph Stalin, Kundera has instead explored the psychology and emotions of his characters as individuals. His fiction is very complex, often presenting events in a disjointed time frame and from the viewpoint of several characters whose sexual machinations are usually central to the stories.
Although many critics focus on the political disillusionment evident in his work, Kundera claims that there has been too much emphasis on this aspect and he especially dislikes being classified as a dissident writer. In an interview, Kundera commented: "If I write a love story, and there are three lines about Stalin in that story, people will talk about the three lines and forget the rest…." It is probable that critics examine the political implications of his work because of Kundera's involvement in the political and cultural turmoils of Czechoslovakia. As a young man he witnessed the Nazi occupation of his country during the Second World War. Kundera became a member of the Communist party that gained power after the war. Although he was expelled for a time, he was reinstated and became an influential member of the group of intellectuals who were demanding greater artistic freedom, a movement that led to a brief period of liberalization known as the Prague Spring. But after the Soviet invasion in 1969, Kundera was labeled a counterrevolutionary, his books were banned, and he lost his position teaching film studies at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Prague. Kundera left Czechoslovakia in 1975 to accept a teaching position at the University of Rennes in France.
Kundera gained international attention when two of his early works were translated and published in the West. His first novel Žert (1967; The Joke) is an ironic view of a young intellectual in a Communist country who falls out of favor with the authorities. The French version was introduced by Louis Aragon and helped establish Kundera's reputation in France, where all of his books have been especially well received. Směšné lásky (1963, 1965, 1968; Laughable Loves), which contains a preface by Philip Roth, is a collection of short stories dealing with desire and seduction.
Kundera began his writing career as a poet, and then turned to drama before writing the fiction which brought him world renown. Although he has stated that he has little regard for either his poetry or his drama, his first play was produced both in Czechoslovakia and in more than a dozen other countries. Entitled Majitelé Klíčů (1962; The Owners of the Keys), it offers a satiric look at heroism during the Nazi occupation. Kundera's later novels include Valčík na rozloučenou (1979; The Farewell Party), Život je jinde (1979; Life Is Elsewhere), and Kniha smíchu a zapomnění (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting). His recent novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) is set in Czechoslovakia after the 1969 Russian invasion and follows two couples as they redefine their relationships. It has been interpreted as an existential examination of the pain which can result from commitment and the meaninglessness of a life without responsibility. The novel is divided into seven sections and interweaves various themes in patterns reminiscent of musical composition.
(See also CLC, Vols. 4, 9, 19 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)