World-renowned Czech author Kundera turns 80

Perhaps the best known Czech author in the world today, Milan Kundera, turns 80 this Wednesday. The reclusive author of works such as ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ and ‘The Joke’ is celebrating his birthday in his adoptive France, where he has just released a new volume of essays.

Birthday wishes, some indeed proffered by the Czech president, have been published all over the Czech press in the run up to Milan Kundera’s birthday on April 1. But over 30 years after emigrating to France and being stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship, Mr Kundera’s relationship with his homeland continues to be strained. His latest set of essays, titled ‘Une rencontre’, was brought out in French by publishers Gallimard two weeks ago, and joins the growing catalogue of works by the Czech author with no set release date in his mother tongue.

Here in the Czech Republic, this past year has seen Milan Kundera discussed mainly in connection with one thing: claims that he informed upon a Western agent in the 1950s, leading to that man’s imprisonment and torture. The accusations caused a normally taciturn Mr Kundera to make a rare public statement, strongly denying the charge.

Nevertheless, Milan Kundera is perhaps best known in this country still as the author of books like ‘Směšné lásky’ (‘Laughable Loves’) and ‘Žert’ (‘The Joke’), which magnified the more absurd aspects of life in Communist Czechoslovakia, and brought Czech literature to an international audience.