The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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Milan Kundera | Biography

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Early Life and Education

Born April 1, 1929, in Brno, Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic), Milan Kundera grew up surrounded by music. His father, Ludvik Kundera, was a pianist and music expert. His father also taught Kundera to play piano. Kundera's musical influences often show up in his work, as seen in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. After high school Kundera studied literature at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University and then film at the Academy of Performing Arts, both in Prague.

Political Life

When the Communist Party (advocates of a system of government where the means of production are controlled by the government) took power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, Kundera, still a teenager, joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. He was active politically but was expelled from the party twice. The first incident was in 1950 for "anti-party activities," and it later inspired his 1967 novel The Joke. After being reinstated in 1956 Kundera was again expelled in 1970. Though eager to reform communism in his native country, Kundera finally gave up in 1975 and moved to France, where he became a French citizen in 1981. Although Kundera does not consider himself a political novelist, he often includes political commentary in his work. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for example, Tomas writes a critique of communism that forces him to quit practicing medicine and become a window washer. The Prague Spring of 1968 (a period of liberalization) and subsequent reactionary Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia also serve as an important historical backdrop for the novel.

Literary Life

Kundera's first published work was a book of poetry written in his native Czech in 1953. He also wrote political essays, dramas, and poetry collections between 1955–71. In 1967 he published his debut novel, The Joke. Because he criticized Soviet totalitarianism in the novel, his works were banned in his homeland until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. He published several more works, including the novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979), before writing his best-known work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). This philosophical novel won him many fans and honors and was adapted for film and released by American director Philip Kaufman in 1988. Kundera began writing exclusively in French in 1993, considering himself a French novelist.

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