Milan Kundera Biography

(Czech Writer Best Known for His Novel 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being')

Birthday: April 1, 1929 (Aries)

Born In: Brno, Czechia

Milan Kundera was a Czech-born French writer known for his erotic and political writings. One of his best-known works is ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, which explores the artistic and intellectual life of Czech society in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Born into a middle-class family in Czechoslovakia as the son of a prominent musicologist and pianist, young Milan followed in his father’s footsteps to study musicology and musical composition. A teenager at the time of the World War II, his ideology was greatly influenced by the experiences of the war and the German occupation. As a young man he joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia though he was soon expelled because of his “anti-party” activities. He completed his higher studies at Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and became a lecturer after graduation. He began his writing career as a poet and proceeded to write short stories and novels as well. Most of his works have erotic undertones and political elements which led him to be regarded as a political or dissident writer. He was forced to go into exile in France due to the controversial nature of his works and became a naturalized French citizen soon after. He was known to be a reclusive person who rarely spoke to the media.

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Quick Facts

French Celebrities Born In April

Died At Age: 94

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Vera Hrabankova

father: Ludvík Kundera

mother: Milada Kunderova-Janosikova

Born Country: Czech Republic

Novelists Czech Men

Died on: July 11, 2023

place of death: Paris, France

Notable Alumni: Charles University, Academy Of Performing Arts In Prague

City: Brno, Czech Republic

More Facts

education: Academy Of Performing Arts In Prague, Charles University

awards: 1985 - Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society
Austrian State Prize for European Literature
2009 - Prix mondial Cino Del Duca
1981 - Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service

  • 1

    What is Milan Kundera known for?

    Milan Kundera is known for being a Czech-born French writer of novels, essays, and plays.

  • 2

    What are some of Milan Kundera's most famous works?

    Some of Milan Kundera's most famous works include "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting," and "Immortality."

  • 3

    What themes Milan Kundera often explored in his writing?

    Milan Kundera often explored themes such as identity, memory, love, politics, and the human experience in his writing.

  • 4

    Where did Milan Kundera live and work for most of his career?

    For most of his career, Milan Kundera lived and worked in France, having moved there from his native Czechoslovakia in the 1970s.

  • 5

    What literary style was Milan Kundera known for?

    Milan Kundera was known for his unique blend of philosophical musings, complex characters, and intricate narrative structures in his writing.

Childhood & Early Life

Milan Kundera was born on 1 April 1929 in Brno, Czechoslovakia, into a middle-class family. His father, Ludvík Kundera, was a prominent musicologist and pianist who served as the head of the Janáček Music Academy in Brno from 1948 to 1961. His mother’s name was Milada Kunderová.

He was trained to play the piano at an early age. He was a young boy when the World War II started, and much of his political ideology was shaped by the experiences of World War II and the German occupation. While in his teens he joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia only to be expelled later on.

He completed his schooling from Gymnázium třída Kapitána Jaroše in 1948 and proceeded to study literature and aesthetics at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague. He transferred to the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague after a couple of terms and graduated in 1952.

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Awards & Achievements

In 1985, Milan Kundera received the Jerusalem Prize.

He was presented with The Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1987.

He won the international Herder Prize in 2000 and the Czech State Literature Prize in 2007.

Personal Life & Legacy

Milan Kundera married Vera Hrabankova in 1967.

In 2008, a scandal erupted when the Czech weekly ‘Respekt’ publicized an investigation carried out by the Czech Institute for Studies of Totalitarian Regimes which alleged that Kundera had denounced a young Czech pilot, Miroslav Dvořáček, to the police in 1950. Kundera denied the charges.

On July 11, 2023, Milan Kundera passed away after fighting a prolonged illness. He was 94 years old.

Major Works

His best known work is ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, a story about two women, two men, a dog and their lives in the Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history in 1968. The critically acclaimed work was later adapted into an American film.

His novel ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’, composed of seven separate narratives united by some common themes speaks of Czech citizens opposing the communist regime in various ways. Wittily written with elements of irony, the book is one of the author’s most successful ones.

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Career

Upon his graduation Milan Kundera was appointed as a lecturer in world literature in the Film Faculty. He also began his writing career in the 1950s and published several collections of poetry, including ‘The Last May’ in 1955 and ‘Monologues’ in 1957.

Around this time he was readmitted into the Communist Party in 1956 and remained a member until 1970 when he was expelled again.

The 1960s was a productive time for him as a writer. He published several volumes of short stories and a successful one-act play, ‘The Owners of the Keys’ (1962) which he followed up with the novel, ‘The Joke’ (1967), a comedic take on the life of Czechs during the years of Stalinism.

In 1968, Kundera along with other reform communist writers such as Pavel Kohout became involved in the Prague Spring. The reformist activities, however, were crushed by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.

Following the Soviet invasion, Kundera lost his teaching position due to his involvement in the Prague Spring. His books were banned from the libraries in his country and in 1970, his books were banned from publication.

In 1975, Kundera along with his wife went into exile in France where he got a teaching position in the University of Rennes. The Czech government stripped him of his citizenship in 1979 and in 1981 he became a naturalized French citizen.

In 1984, he published ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, a novel which would become his best known work. The story was about two women, two men, a dog and their lives in the Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history in 1968.

In the 1990s he published ‘Immortality’ (1990), ‘Slowness’ (1995), and ‘Identity’ (1998). ‘Immortality’ was his last novel in Czech; ‘Slowness’ and ‘Identity’ were written in French. His books have been translated into many languages.

Facts About Milan Kundera

Milan Kundera was an accomplished pianist and even considered pursuing a career in music before turning to writing.

Kundera was known for his love of cats and has often incorporated them into his novels as symbolic figures.

Despite being a famous author, Kundera valued his privacy and rarely gave interviews or made public appearances.

Kundera was fluent in multiple languages, including Czech, French, and English, allowing him to connect with a diverse range of readers worldwide.

Kundera was an avid traveler and drew inspiration from his experiences in different countries and cultures, which was reflected in his writing.

See the events in life of Milan Kundera in Chronological Order

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