Confronting the Past: Contemporary Eastern European Writers

Milan Kundera (1929- )

The Unbearable Lightness of Being


  • Born in 1929 in Brno, Czechoslovakia.
  • Immigrated to France in 1975; became naturalized French citizen in 1981
  • Studied music under Paul Haas and Vaclav Kapral; attended Charles University, Prague, and Film Faculty, Academy of Music and Dramatic arts, Prague, 1956.


  • Worked as a laborer and jazz pianist in provincial Czechoslovakia.
  • Received many prizes for his writing, including the Common Wealth Award for distinguished service in literature, 1981, the Prix Europa for Literature, 1982, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984.
  • Was a professor at the Film Faculty, Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, 1958-69 and Universite de Rennes II, Rennes, France, 1975-1979; since 1980, professor at Ecole des Hautes Etudes. Paris, France.
  • Published short stories, poetry, plays, screenplays, and essays, as well as novels; translated into numerous languages.
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being adapted for film by Philip Kaufman and Jean-Claude Carriere.

Major Writings (available in translation)

Zert (1967) [The Joke (1969)]
La vie est ailleurs (1973)  [Life is Elsewhere (1973, 1986)]
La valse aux adieux (1979) [The Farewell Party (1979); Farewell Waltz: A Novel (1998)]
Le livre du rire et de l'oubli (1979) [The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1980)]
L'insoutenable l'egerete de l'etre 1984 [The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)]
L'immortalite (1990) [Immortality (1993)]
La Lenteur: roman (1995) [Slowness: A Novel (1996)]
L'identity: roman (1997)  [Identity: A Novel (1998)]

Critical Sources and Reviews

  • Biographical and critical information in the following Gale publications: Contemporary Authors, Volume 85-88; Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Volumes 19, 52, and 74; and Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volumes 4, 9, 19, 32, 68, and 115 .  Gale Literary Database (Contemporary Authors Online) can be accessed online through a subscribing library at  
  • Other sources for biographical or critical information:
  • Cyclopedia of World Authors. 5 volumes. Ed. by Frank Magill.  1997.
    Milan Kundera and the Art of Fiction: Critical Essays, by Aron Aji, New York 1992.
    Terminal Paradox: The Novels of Milan Kundera, by Maria Nemcove Banerjee, Grove, 1990.
    Understanding Milan Kundera: Public Events, Private Affairs, by Fred Misurella, Columbia, SC, 1993.
    Critical Essays on Milan Kundera, ed. Peter Petro. Twayne, 1999.

Retired Discussion Series

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