Milan Kundera is a widely recognized twentieth century Czechoslovakian-born, France based writer. His major contributions include The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Joke and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Czechoslovakian Communists banned his works until the collapse of the regime. He has been nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature on a number of occasions.
Born on April 1, 1929, in Brno, Czechoslovakia, Kundera grew up in a bourgeois family. In Bruno, his father, Ludvík Kundera, was a foremost musicologist and the head of a music academy. Ludvik passed on his musical prowess to his son and later Milan took lessons in musicology. The study of musicology also influenced his writing as several musical references are made in his works. In his youth he became a strong supporter of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. He received his early education from a secondary school located in Bruno. Subsequently, he moved to Prague where he attended Charles University majoring in literature and aesthetics. However, he was shortly transferred to the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. Here, he took a course in film direction and script writing. Following graduation in 1952, he accepted the lecturership at the same institution, delivering lectures on world literature. He rejoined the communist party in 1956 bu was expelled again four years later.
The early literary work of Kundera is labeled staunchly pro-communist. During 1950s, he penned numerous plays and essays and translated literary works. He also published several poetry collections but was recognized for his short story collection, Laughable Loves. He also served as editor at literary magazines, like Literarni Noviny and Listy. His novels seem to defy the stereotypical genre classification. In his later works Kundera avoided political commentary and focused on philosophical dimension. His literary style was highly inspired by Robert Musil’s fiction and Nietzsche’s philosophy, which follows a steady philosophical digression. Some of the major influences on his works include Renaissance authors, Franz Kafka, Martin Heidegger, Miguel de Cervantes and Giovanni Boccaccio.
At first, Kundera wrote novels in Czech but as he permanently settled in France, he began writing in French, 1993 onwards. In fact, during 1980s he took up the feat of revising the French translation of his earlier works. Moreover, he now considers himself a French language author rather than Czech. The Joke is marked as Kundera’s first novel published in 1967. The book focuses on the subject of Stalinism and satirizes the totalitarianism during the Communist era. His blunt criticism on Soviet invasion in the novel resulted in banning of his works in Czechoslovakia. In 1973, Kundera published his second work of fiction, Life is Elsewhere, in French. It charts the life of a fictional character, Jaromil, an idealistic poet and his involvement in political scandal during and after the Second World War.
After writing a few controversial political works, Kundera explored the philosophical realm in his The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The book was published in 1984 when he had already settled in France. It examines the concept of eternal return proposed by Nietzsche by which a single event or being is bound to recur infinitely in an infinite universe. The book was followed by Immortality (1990) which again has philosophical debate at its center rather than political. For his considerable contribution, Milan Kundera was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, The Austrian State Prize, Czech State Literature Prize and the Ovid Prize.