Czech and French Milan Kundera


Two world-renowned authors, Alain Finkielkraut and Marek Bienczyk, talked to the Book World audience about their relationship to the famous Czech-born author.

Foto: Elisa Cabot, Wikimedia Commons

The Polish novelist, essayist, literary historian and translator Marek Bienczyk recalled his first encounter with Kundera's work in the year 1981 at the Warsaw university. "Those were a bit strange times. The Solidarity had called for a nationwide strike. I was a representative of a student union and I felt quite intensely that I was a part of something much bigger. It was a feeling of great joy. Kundera's book The Unbearable Lightness of Being made a strong impression on us. He was writing about the things we were living - it was like an epiphany. It was almost incredible how he spoke from our hearts." As Marek Bienczyk says, Czech literature was already very popular in Poland in the 1980s. "We read Hrabal and perceived the Czechs accordingly. He wrote that your beer was better than the Polish one, he described the everyday life, and we liked it so much we wanted to live here. Kundera was completely different than Hrabal. He was seen more as a French author and it is still like this today," added Marek Bienczyk, who has translated a several of Kundera's books into Polish.

An outstanding representative of the French intellectual circles, philosopher and writer Alain Finkielkraut, even goes so far as to call Milan Kundera his literary role model. "The first book of his I'd read was The Joke in 1968. It was a very strong novel, just like his other works. If we are talking about how his life in France has influenced him, than yes, of course it has, but I still think that he is predominantly a Czech author, and by that I mean the style of his writing. I can see in his work that somehow typically Czech refusal to be serious, the ability not to take oneself seriously and the tragicomic situations. All this is very Czech." An interesting moment from Kundera's writing has surfaced during the discussion - the first translation of The Joke was adapted by the translator to such an extent that he had virtually created another book. "When Milan Kundera found out, he was shocked by the flowery and lyrical nature of the text the translator had added. In turn he spent some two years reworking the translation and since then he is almost obsessed with translations of his works. In this particular case he even went so far as to sue the translator," Alain Finkielkraut revealed an interesting detail from Kundera's life. But Milan Kundera is not only recognised for scrutinizing translations of his works. It is a well-known fact that he is also very much concerned with the quality of the language. "He cares a great lot about how he writes - not a single word is redundant and he insists that the publishers respect this," adds Alain Finkielkraut, who knows Kundera's work in detail. He was also one of the contributors to the biography that was published in France to mark the writer's 90th birthday.

Both authors admitted that Milan Kundera's influence on their work is significant, and added that they are by far not the only ones. And they are most certainly right.