Anonymous translator releases pirate version of Kundera book

Milan Kundera, photo: Gallimard

Czech-born writer Milan Kundera is easily one of the most recognisable and more respected names in contemporary European literature, whose work has been translated into many different languages. The irony is that none of his latest work - since Mr Kundera now writes solely in French - has ever been translated into Czech. That apparently provoked one anonymous fan to translate one of the later novels, "Identity" and release it on the Internet.

Novels in the period following "Immortality" to "Ignorance" represent a substantial body of Milan Kundera's work - but forget about reading them in the author's mother tongue. In the past, the author blocked official translations into Czech, a move not without some irony. On the other hand, its understandable, given they are translations - most specialists agree - only Mr Kundera would be qualified to do himself. Tomas Vrba is a professor of literature at the Prague branch of New York University:

"The fact that Kundera remains one of the most respected contemporary authors worldwide means there is continued curiosity and interest in his work: the language barrier for Czech readers, though, is something that is quite absurd. I can't think of a similar example of any other well-known author in history, where a domestic audience was unable to read the author's work in the mother tongue. The fact that the books aren't available perhaps raises their value here. On the other hand, I think that even if by some miracle his later books were officially published here, they still wouldn't be bestsellers."

Curiosity has now spurred one anonymous translator to go as far as translating Kundera's "Identity", from 1998, and posting it illegally on the worldwide web. If Mr Kundera takes legal action now, it won't be at all surprising. But, says Professor Vrba, while some may visit to get a glimpse of the pirate versions, in his view it is unlikely to be time well spent.

"Of course the [Internet version] is a pirate copy and I have to say I'm not even interested in looking up the pages. One doesn't read Kundera just for the content - this is not some TV series or film: in Kundera every word has meaning and every word counts. This step by an anonymous translator shows that while the situation is absurd, no one can force Mr Kundera to translate the last five books into Czech. He's still working on newer things, and for him going back to older material would just take too much time. I can be unhappy as a reader, but I understand his reasons. It is logical that he would want to be the only one to work on any translation into Czech."

Pirate translations of novels by other well-known authors have also appeared from time to time in Czech on the Internet: in all cases they were quickly pulled to try and avoid legal action. In the case of "Identity" it's likely we will see the same.