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Tymon Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Footnotes: Milan Kundera

Yesterday was Czech novelist Milan Kundera’s 83rd birthday. The author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and Immortality, among others, lives in France, his home since leaving Czechoslovakia in 1975.

The son of a musicologist, Kundera’s work is full of musical influences. He studied at the Prague Film School in the late 1940s and, after graduating in 1952, was appointed as a lecturer in world literature.

He wrote his first novel, The Joke, in 1967, a satirical look at totalitarian regimes which, like all Kundera’s work, was banned after he criticised the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

In 1984, Kundera published his most famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. In 2008, a controversy erupted when it was alleged Kundera had denounced a pilot to the Czech police in 1950.

He denied the accusation, but it was supported by the police report – despite which, the pilot did not believe Kundera was his betrayer.

In November 2008, 11 international authors came to Kundera’s defence, including SA Nobel Laureates JM Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. Kundera has yet to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and you have to wonder if the negative publicity may have hurt his chances forever.


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