Milan Kundera

On this date in 1929, novelist Milan Kundera was born in Brno, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). He grew up in a cultured, middle-class family, and graduated from the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, in 1952. Kundera was expelled from the communist party in 1950, then readmitted in 1956, and expelled again in 1970. He became an assistant, then a professor, at the Film Faculty at Prague's Academy of Performing Arts. His first book was published in 1953, and he continued publishing poetry and short stories, until his novel, The Joke, was published in 1967. During the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), Kundera became a leader of the resistance, lost his teaching post, and saw his books banned. He lost his citizenship in 1979 for writing The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979). Since 1975 he has lived in France with his wife Vera, and became a French citizen in 1981. His other books include Life is Elsewhere (1969), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), The Art of the Novel (1988, in which he discusses his lack of religion), Slowness (1994) and Identity (1998). Unbearable Lightness was turned into a movie in 1987. Kundera cites as one of his literary icons Diderot.

“Totalitarianism is neither left nor right, and within its empire both will perish.

I was never a believer, but after seeing Czech Catholics persecuted during the Stalinist terror, I felt the deepest solidarity with them. What separated us, the belief in God, was secondary to what united us. In Prague, they hanged the Socialists and the priests. Thus a fraternity of the hanged was born.”

—-Interview with Olga Carlisle (1985)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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