Saturday, September 4, 2010

Milan Kundera

For the most part, I have been on another of my nonfiction kicks.  But there is one author I've recently found who I wish I would have known about sooner.  That author is Czechoslovakian writer Milan Kundera.

Kundera was born in Czechoslovakia but was later exiled in 1975 for political reasons and has lived in France ever since.  His experiences in post-World War II Communist Czechoslovakia have shaped his writing in a way one would expect.  Kundera often writes of persons from the Czech Republic who have left for political reasons or have been exiled.  More often than not, his characters have mixed feelings of whether to miss their homeland and return to it someday, or to forget about it all together.  The over-arching theme throughout his works is identity, whether national or personal.

My first experience with Kundera's work was with his work entitled Ignorance.  The story centers on Irena and Josef.  They each left their native homeland, Czechoslovakia, prior to the fall of Communism.  Irena returns to Prague after 20 years in France and reunites with Josef, whom she knew very briefly in her life in Prague.  Irena immediately recognizes him and believes that this is an opportunity to capitalize on a previously lost opportunity.  Josef only pretends to immediately recognize her and a passionate affair ensues.  Kundera uses this with Irena's new feelings towards her homeland to show how our memory can distort reality.

Identity is fully explored by Chantal as she, while on vacation with her much younger boyfriend, believes that she is too old to attract another man.  But she soon begins to receive anonymous love letters.  She wonders if each new man she meets may be her secret admirer.  The truth about her admirer is too much for her to deal with as she begins to concoct another identity for herself, one that threatens her real identity as known to her boyfriend, Jean-Marc, and herself.

For more Kundera, check out Slowness, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Immortality, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

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