Milan Kundera is an author I could stand to read more of (I've only read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, although I did like it a lot). Now that he's 80, they're beginning to mark the occasion.
Geordie Williamson at The Australian has a nice, if occasionally inconsistent, tribute to Kundera:
But these fictions were always more than Iron Curtain exotica.
Kundera's talent, though unevenly applied throughout his career, has
always been impressive in essence and deeply original. His method has
been to graft abstract philosophical ideas with fictional invention to
create narrative cyborgs: intellectually speculative, formally
experimental, intermittently essayistic, yet warm-blooded, grounded in
human experience. His characters are not mere automatons, programmed
with pure theory and set to shuffling: they are sophisticated neural
networks that grow through those dilemmas of love, history, nation and
politics the author obliges them to confront.
Few, for example, have read and fewer understand German philosopher
Martin Heidegger when he writes about truth and untruth, and their
relation to human freedom (me included). But everyone can appreciate
Sabina, the embodiment of his ideas in The Unbearable Lightness of
One wonders how Williamson knows that Sabina embodies Heidegger's ideas if he doesn't understand them . . .
Later on, Williamson marks the turn in Kundera's fiction post-Iron Curtain:
It is difficult to know how consciously Kundera incorporated this
new political and cultural dispensation into his writing. But with his
turn to French in the 1990s came an increased interest in philosophy at
the expense of politics. Although these later novels were
well-received, re-reading the reviews it is hard toavoid the sense that
while his aphoristic intelligence remained undimmed, Kundera's
characters, now often Gallic, no longer at the pointy end of
20th-century history, had grown insubstantial. As Geoff Dyer, one of
Kundera's strongest English advocates, admitted of 1990's Immortality:
I find I don't much care about Kundera's characters in their (chic,
bourgeois) environment. I love Kundera speculating about his
characters, but when the characters are on their own, when he is not
around, in other words, when he is not looking, Iskip.
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