During an assignment to the Czech Republic last year, one of the highlights was a visit to Brno, the second largest city in the country behind Prague.
Brno is low on most people’s radar but has a special literary connection. It is the birthplace of Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist who has lived in exile in France since the mid-1970s. Kundera’s books were banned pre-Velvet Revolution of 1989 and his novels, which include The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Joke, were written in French.
Kundera’s relationship with his hometown and his country of birth is a complex one. Kafak-esque, you may say. He was a member of the Communist Party when he was a teenager and was expelled and re-admitted at least twice. Over the years,
Kundera was locked in bitter arguments with his fellow writer Vaclav Havel (later the last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic) over reforms of the Communist regime.
Brno today is a pretty and elegant town. The buildings are stunningly white. Reminded me in some ways of Bath, England. The streets are cobble-stoned and the early morning of my first day there, a fruit, flower and vegetable market was being set up shortly before 7 in the morning in the town’s square.
There are no visible markers that I could find to commemorate Brno being the birthplace of Kundera, certainly one of the most influential Czech writers today.
From a blog posting by journalist Michal Kašpárek, he noted the birthplace of Kundera. The reclusive Kundera has through the years disavowed his association from the country and the city where he was born.
In 2009, the first international conference including scholars of his work from around the world, met in Brno, but Kundera himself failed to show. Kundera called the conference a “necrophile party” and that he saw himself “as a French writer and insists his work should be studied as French literature and classified as such in book stores.”