Kundera, Milan [key], 1929–, Czechslovakian-born novelist and essayist. The publication of his first novel, The Joke (1967, tr. 1974), a satire of Stalinist Czechoslovakia in the 1950s, roughly coincided with the 1968 Soviet invasion of his homeland. The book and his criticism of the invasion brought Kundera, formerly a committed communist, severe disapproval by the new government, and were key factors in the banning of his work, his expulsion from the Communist party, and the loss of both his teaching position and his citizenship. These events led to his decision to flee Czechoslovakia and settle (1975) in France, where he became (1981) a citizen after his homeland stripped him of his citizenship. (The Czech Republic restored it in 2019.)
His widely translated fiction, which is often set against a totalitarian backdrop yet is usually apolitical in tone, looks ironically at love, sex, and the possibility of spiritual fulfillment in the modern age. His works frequently treat themes of exile and return, memory and forgetfulness, nostalgia and regret. Kundera's most acclaimed novels are The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979, tr. 1980, 1996) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (tr. 1984). Among his other novels are Life Is Elsewhere (tr. 1974, 2000) and Immortality (1990, tr. 1991), both written in Czech; and Slowness (1995, tr. 1996), Identity (1997, tr. 1998), and Ignorance (2000, tr. 2002), all originally in French. He has also written plays, short stories, poetry, and essays. Among the latter are collections containing his reflections on fiction, The Art of the Novel (1986, tr. 1988), Testaments Betrayed (tr. 1995), The Curtain (2005, tr. 2007), and Encounter (2009, tr. 2010), in which he also discusses poetry, music, and painting.
See studies by M. N. Banerjee (1990) and F. Ricard (2003).
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