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 himself was a jazz musician for a while. Indeed music is an important theme in his writing. He became a professor at the Prague Institute for Cinematographic Studies, where his students 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 he accepted a professorship at Rennes University in France. Later he moved to Paris, and in 1981 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. When "Immortality" won The Independent Foreign Fiction Award in 1991, Kundera wrote: "First, of all the people in the world, they [The English] have the greatest sense of humour; second, their behaviour is distinguished by what one calls understatement. Forgive me this naive, simplistic, very cliched vision of the English and allow me to keep it. The sense of humour and understatement (a characteristic so agreeably un-Slav) are qualities which are extraordinarily dear to me and I would like to hope they are the qualities of my novels".
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” has catapulted Kundera to the heights of undisputed global fame, labeling him the greatest novelist of his country for the twentieth century. Even though refusing to be read as a political dissident, the Nobel Prize for Literature contender Kundera is profoundly engaged in the social destiny of Czechoslovakia during the Communist era, nevertheless using philosophy and metaphysics to transcend the immediate and effervescent, in relation to eternity, human condition. Deeply poetic and multi-layered, his oeuvre is considered a never-ending journey through the labyrinth of life’s fundamentals: love, exile, identity, forgiveness, pleasure and sorrow.