Lost In Translation

Why samizdat is still the only way for Czechs to read Kundera, the country's most famous writer

Kundera
Decades ago, when Czechs wanted to read their country's most famous author, Milan Kundera, they often had to resort to samizdat — the clandestine copying and distribution of government-suppressed literature or other media in Soviet-bloc countries. Now those who want to read him in his mother tongue are still consulting pirate versions — not because of censorship, but because of Kundera's perfectionism.

The 77-year-old, who wrote his last three novels in French, insists on translating them into Czech himself — and he's in no hurry. So when one impatient anonymous literary toiler posted an illegal translation of Kundera's second-to-last novel, Identity, to the Blogger.com site in June, "he was upset," says his friend and Czech agent, Jirí Srstka. Srstka's agency wants Google — which owns Blogger.com — to pull the bootlegged version.

Perhaps benign neglect would preserve the writer's reputation just as well. Petr Sruta, a teacher who recalls wonderful youthful encounters with banned Kundera novels, quit reading five pages into the pirated Identity. "It's simply not Kundera," he says.

©TIME. Printed on Monday, January 8, 2007