Milan Kundera's Biography
Before starting a biography of Milan Kundera, it seems appropriate to quote from his excellent novel Immortality:
"Biography: sequence of events which we consider important to our life. However, what is important and what isn't? Because we ourselves don't know (and never even think of putting such a silly question to ourselves) we accept as important whatever is accepted by others, for example, by our employer, whose questionnaire we fill out: date of birth, parents' occupation, schooling, changes of occupation, domicile, marriages, divorces, births of children, serious diseases. It is deplorable, but it is a fact: we have learned to see our own lives through the eyes of business or government questionnaires..."
Milan Kundera was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1929. Appropriately for someone whose first novel was The Joke, Kundera was born on 1 April.
His father was a well-known pianist and Milan Kundera himself was a jazz musician for a while. Indeed music is an important theme in his writing. Peter Kussi, a translator of Kundera into English has expounded on this theme:
"The musical form of Kundera's novels, in which the tension between precision and freedom is expressed in terms of theme and variations, also poses difficulties for the translator. In Kundera's novels certain words and phrases appear again and again, like musical leitmotifs ..."
Milan Kundera became a professor at the Prague Institute for Cinematographic Studies, where his pupils included Milos Forman.
Although Kundera went on to write many novels, his first major publication was The Art of the Novel in 1960. In 1968 the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and Kundera's books were banned and removed from libraries. In 1975, Milan Kundera accepted a professorship at Rennes University in France. Later he moved to Paris, and, in 1981, he became a French citizen.
Although Kundera was already established, the publication of The Unbearable Lightness of Being in 1984 secured huge critical and popular acclaim.
Readers of his work from around the world should be aware that Kundera is "very concerned that I should be translated faithfully". When publishers in America and England made cuts in The Joke Kundera disclaimed all responsibility. For many years he had only been published outside his native land and understandably therefore he places a particular importance on translations of his work.
The BBC has an interesting article, Czechs rush to buy Kundera book, on how The Unbearable Lightness of Being had finally become a bestseller in the Czech Republic, when the first official Czech-language edition hit bookstores in the Czech Republic in late October 2006.
In 2014, he published the novel The Festival of Insignificance.
He died in Paris in July 2023, aged 94.
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