Milan Kundera is a French author born on April 1, 1929 in Brno, Czechoslovakia. After secondary school, he attended Charles University to study literature and later transferred to the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague to study film directing. His foray into the literary realm was characterized by heavy political commentary and criticisms of communism. Kundera’s first and second novels, The Joke (1967) and Life is Elsewhere (1973), respectively, were biting satires on communist regimes. Accordingly, Kundera’s works were banned from pro-communist territories and he received a great deal of backlash for his political writings.
While he published numerous books throughout his career, Milan Kundera’s most acclaimed piece is The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). It tells the story of Tomas and Tereza, a couple living during Prague Spring of 1968, a period of liberalization in Czechoslovak history. Under Alexander Dubček’s leadership, the Czech people were provided with greater freedom of expression and a guarantee of civil rights. However, these reforms ended due to the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia by August 1968.
When it was published in 1984, The Unbearable Lightness of Being was immensely popular and soon became Kundera’s most popular work. Four years later, in 1988, the novel was adapted into a film of the same name, directed by Philip Kaufman and written by Jean-Claude Carrière. It ultimately grossed $10 million at the box office and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Despite the film’s success, Kundera himself believed that it did not properly capture the spirit of the story and consequently, he does not allow any further screen adaptations of his novels.