Milan Kundera

You will either enjoy Kundera's books or they will leave you totally cold. The line between the two is thin and nowhere is this better illustrated that in the cruel spoof "Book Of Nothing"we show below. But please, try his books for yourself - we have enjoyed them to the point of re-reading most of them.

Milan Kundera was born on 1/4/1929 in Brno (Bohemia / Czechoslovakia). He wrote his first poems during high school time. After World War II he studied musicology, film and literature and aesthetics ath the Prague Charles University. He then became a professor at the film faculty of the Prague Academy of performing arts. Kundera joined the communist party in 1948 full of enthusiasm, as did so many intellectuals.1950 he got expelled from the communist party because of individualistic tendencies. Kundera first became known after collections of poems through his three volume prose writing "Laughable Loves", created and published between 1958 and 1968.

In his first novel, "The Joke" (1967), he deals with Stalinism. After the Sovjet invasion at 21/08/1968 Kundera as one of the main figures of the put down "Prague Spring" lost his permission to teach, his books had been removed from all public libraries of the country. In 1979 he was deprived of the Czechoslovakian citizenship by the Czech government as reaction to his "Book of Laughter and Forgetting". Kunderas newer novels are the 1994 published "Slowness" and "Identity" from 1998. In 2000. He now lives in Paris.

- Man: A Broad Garden, 1953
- The Last May, 1954-1955-1961
- Monologues, 1957-1964-1965

- The Owner of the Keys, 1962.
- Two Ears,Two Weddings (Slowness), 1968
- The Blunder, 1969
- Jaques and His Master, 1971 (Hommage to Diderot in 3 acts)

- The Joke, 1965
- Laughable Loves, 3 parts: 1963-1965-1968, complete 1969
- Life is Elsewhere, 1969/70
- The Farewell Waltz (earlier translation: Party), 1970/71
- The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, 1978
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1982
- Immortality, 1988
- Slowness, 1994.
- Identity, 1996
- Ignorance, 2000

Essays include Testaments Betrayed, essay in 9 parts, 1992 :

Milan Kundera - A Book of Nothing by Serge Winitzki

Chapter I: Thoughts

I stood beside the window and thought about this novel. What would I write it about? Each writer (and I am one, obviously) has this problem. The characters of one's novel are like flies in a pot of honey; it is much easier to attract flies than to fill the pot. I looked out of the window into the dim morning air and thought about this novel when I heard somebody loudly flush a toilet bowl. Perhaps it was that shy young girl in the apartment next door. I will call her Maria, just to make my writer's task simpler. Maria works in a local newspaper, and every morning she hurries to the tram that takes her to work. Listening to the sound of flushing toilet, I thought that she may have had far less trouble emptying her bowels than I writing this novel -- excreting the honey for the pot, so to speak. Obviously, the latter is more difficult due to the qualitative difference between the two substances. However, our motivations -- hers for emptying her bowels and mine for writing this novel -- are exactly the same: to relieve ourselves. The front door of the apartment building slammed, and Maria hurried to the tram stop. Why does she always seem to be in such a hurry, I asked myself. Maybe she is unconsciously trying to escape the sound of the toilet bowl by assuming this businesslike, hurried appearance? I should look more deeply into this fascinating matter. Maria waited impatiently for the tram. She was already thinking about her work, but a certain uneasiness remained, a slight blemish on her usual morning mood. She suddenly had a recollection of her job interview last week; the man interviewing her was constantly looking at her stomach. Had she made any mistakes? She couldn't think of any. No, the interview definitely wasn't the cause of her discomfort that morning. She was just being serious about her career. All truly mature and adult people, she thought, must be serious and worry about things. She frowned and looked around, hoping to see other people's mature, worried faces. But she was wrong. The real reason for her uneasiness was that, in her hurry, she had to leave the house while the toilet was still flushing. The sound of it escaped through the front door, making the improper connection between the infantile, spontaneous world of excrement and toilet-flushing and the heavy, serious, mature world of worried faces and tram stops. Unintended and undesirable connections between worlds that should remain far apart is what keeps our lives full and our faces worried.

Chapter II: Acts

In 1968, the Russian tanks invaded Prague, and nobody could prevent this. That I myself could not do anything about the Russian tanks did not worry me too much at the time. But shortly afterward I found that in fact I could do nothing meaningful any more. So I had to leave Chekhoslovakia for good. You probably know this already from the back cover of this book; but I felt like telling you, all the same. After all, I am the author and can write whatever I want. The ability to act freely is very important for a human being. Derek, for instance, thought that every day should start with some decisive act. He would lie in his bed all day and revel in the feeling of his freedom of choice. His bladder and penis would ache with the need to urinate; however, on his own free will, he refrained from relieving himself. He did not want to lose the concentration he needed to understand the meaning of his life. And for Derek this problem was embodied in the following question: should he or should he not call his mother to ask her for more money. He was broke; he had money for one more week, and that was it. Ever since his unfortunate newspaper interview that certain government officials interpreted as a political statement, he saw agents following him. Wherever he asked for a job, he was accepted, but then the agents came in after him, and he was refused the next day. That's how it was done in Prague then (don't forget about the Russian tanks!). Derek's mother lived alone at the other end of the country. She must have thought that he was still a small boy. Derek almost never visited her because he couldn't stand her treating him like a kid. She would always tell him to go to sleep at 9 in the evening, and when he refused, she would start telling him fairy-tales. She insisted that he must eat everything she might cook for him, certain that otherwise he would never become a good boy. Her eyes, turned blue from this certainty, followed him all his life. Much as Derek hated visiting her, he already had to ask her for money twice. The first time he said that he wanted to go to the movies, and the second time -- that he wanted some money to buy ice-cream. She put up an appearance of benign rebuke, and she agreed to send him money after she heard his voice tremble with tears. Tears were Derek's most effective weapon against his mother. His tears, always quite sincerely felt, broke the image of the strict, demanding mother and transformed it into a soft, enveloping and accepting one. At those times, he almost felt his mother's breasts surrounding him, like a baby. Derek couldn't tell his mother, of course, that he needed the money mainly to support his mistresses. At the time, he had three of them, all older than he. He seemed to always demand attention and comfort, and the women always gave him the comfort he asked for, reveling in almost motherly feeling for him. Soft masses of their sagging breasts surrounded him, and he could not ask for more. He would instantly forget the troubles of his tangled life. However, his women were always suspicious of his fidelity, and he had to put up appearances of loyalty to each of them in turn. To keep them content, he had to invent late night work shifts (for his daytime mistress) and out-of-town business trips (for his night-time mistress). His face was always worried and somewhat miserable. No doubt that Derek was going through so much trouble on his own free will. In fact, he had decided that, to satisfy the needs of his body, he needed to have sex twice a day. However, his body couldn't keep pace with the physical strain of having sex so often. He felt quite tired all the time, but he ignored his exhaustion, telling himself that satisfaction of the needs of his body was more important than mere physical comfort; and that his tiredness was a pleasant one. But, as I may well know, the true reason for his putting up with his three mistresses was that he was a womanizer. I am a womanizer myself, and I understand Derek pretty well.

Chapter III: Nothing

Well, I had nothing to write about in this chapter. I just wanted to add one more chapter to this book, so that it becomes a little longer. This is called "the book of nothing"; so, after all, it seems only proper to make at least one chapter that contains nothing. You see, I am just following common sense. We all follow common sense when it suits us. Nothing plays a prominent role in our lives. Nothing is more important to us than sex or bowel movements. That's why I put nothing in this final chapter: nothing has more weight. Let nothing, therefore, occupy our attention from now on. As I thought about nothing, I decided to make something rather unpleasant happen to yet another of the characters in this book (whom I had not yet named). What would that be? ... Yes! I will make nothing happen to this guy, during his entire life. His life will be unpleasant indeed. It will be difficult for me to describe this guy's life in detail; but isn't this my writer's heavy lot? Eager am I to take on such a difficult project, in hopes of re-establishing the validity of my self-image. However, I am afraid that I would have to write a lot about that nameless guy, just to give you some idea about what his life were like (and I haven't even come up with a name for him)... Well, then read on: my next novel will be entirely devoted to this promising subject.

The End

Serendipity of the Alphabet