‘There is no perfection, only life.’ – Milan Kundera
It is one of the most powerful quotes from a leading figure of Prague Spring, Milan Kundera. In addition to his political activity, he became a well-known novelist in the Czech Republic and abroad, spreading his word far beyond the homeland.
Milan Kundera is a Czech writer who became a French citizen in 1981 as a result of naturalization. Even though his Czechoslovak citizenship was denied in 1979, he obtained a Czech one a couple of years ago, in 2019.
Writing under Communism
During Communism, all Kundera’s works were banned, forcing the writer to eventually relocate to France, where he lives to this day. Interestingly, Kundera refers to himself as a French writer and insists that his works should be studied in French rather than in the Czech language.
Kundera’s first novels aimed to escape ideological classification. For example, his debut novel, The Joke (1967), which he wrote at the age of thirty-three, satirizes the totalitarian regime of the communist era. The book was written at the time when Kundera’s ideological beliefs changed from supporting Communism to ridiculing its imperfections. In The Joke, the author underlined the problems of Communism, the dangers of living under such a regime, and the necessity of a reformation movement. As you might guess, his work was soon banned for its content. The lack of audience was devastating to the writer. At that challenging time, he received an invitation for a teaching position in France, which was his lucky ticket to freedom of speech and political choices.
Even though his early works have a heavy political tone, Kundera is inclined to believe that he is a novelist, not a politician. Most of his books were translated into different languages and published abroad, mainly in the United States and France. In The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, the audience started to see a developing philosophical theme in his works. The inspiration for it came from multiple sources, including the philosophy of Nietzsche, Musil’s novels, and such authors as Botton and Thirwell. For instance, the principle of F. Nietzsche’s ‘eternal return’ was especially highlighted in the book. For the novel, Kundera received such awards as Jerusalem Prize, Czech State Literature Prize, The Austrian State Prize, and the Ovid Prize. Kundera was also nominated for the Nobel Prize multiple times. In 1988, his book was turned into a movie.
One of his works was different from others. It was The Art of the Novel (1988), which projects Kundera’s theoretical construction of the novel, its morality, and the European culture’s history. Unlike other works, which are basically long essays, this one is divided into parts: three short essays, two interviews, and a long list of definitions. In the book, the author connects different themes through the lens of existential questions.
Kundera’s books can be found in various stores around the world translated into many languages. Enjoy the reading!