Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" finally released in Czech Republic

24-10-2006

It's been nine years since Czech readers have had a chance to buy a new novel by Milan Kundera, but at last the most eagerly anticipated release will hit bookstore shelves this week. The novel that made Milan Kundera an international success, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," has been published in Czech by Brno-based Atlantis Publishing.

Milan Kundera is an author known for guarding his texts, paying especially careful attention to translated editions of his works. Though the Moravian-born author's most famous work, "Nesnesitelna lehkost byti", or "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," was written in Czech shortly after Milan Kundera left Czechoslovakia and settled in Paris. He completed the work in 1982, and it first appeared in French translation in 1984. The novel soon achieved international fame, with translations appearing in English, German, Hungarian, Polish, and Russian. But until now, the only edition ever released in Czech was that published in 1985 by the exile publishing house, Sixty-Eight Publishers, run by Josef Skvorecky and his wife, Zdena Salivarova, in Toronto, Canada. Jiri Srstka, Milan Kundera's Czech literary agent, explains why it took so long for the book to appear officially in the Czech Republic.

"I don't think that Milan Kundera was ever against the book being published in Czech officially, even after many years. Kundera's concern really rested with editing the book properly, and preparing it for publication in Czech. At first glance this doesn't appear to be a big deal, but in the case of Milan Kudnera, who is known for his perfectionism, this is a huge job. Also because the Toronto edition was published under difficult circumstances, and therefore Kundera had to read the entire book again, re-write sections, make additions, and edit the entire text. So given his perfectionism, this is was a long-term job, but now readers will get the book that Milan Kundera thinks should exist."

Milan Kundera's strict approach to authorized releases has often encouraged the idea that his relationship to his former homeland is strained. It has been nine years since the release of a novel by Milan Kundera in Czech, so how popular is "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" expected to be? Jiri Srstka again:

"I think that the book will be popular. Many people have various copies which are either those originating from the former edition published by Skvorecky [in Toronto], and of course also the unauthorized version that appeared on the internet not long ago, which we succeeded in having removed. So I think that everyone interested will want to hold a real book in their hands with an afterword by Milan Kundera, rather than some dubious copy."

Shying away from public appearances, as he typically does, Milan Kundera has expressed one wish: that Czech readers absorb "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" as a novel, a tale of love, and not as a work of political commentary.

24-10-2006