Milan Kundera’s tragi-comic love stories moved many people and were translated into all languages of the world. The writer became world famous with the novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. Kundera is now dead.
The Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera is dead. This was announced by the Moravian State Library in Brno, citing his wife Vera. The 94-year-old died on Tuesday after a long illness. Czech television also reported on his death. During his lifetime, the author entrusted his book estate to the important cultural institution in his native city.
Kundera was one of the most important European writers of his generation. The worldwide breakthrough for Kundera came in 1984 with the novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. The book, about a menage à trois set against the backdrop of the 1968 Prague Spring, was later made into a film, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche.
Kundera’s books have been translated into all world languages and have sold millions of copies. He received numerous awards such as the “Prix Médicis”, the Order of Knights of the French Legion of Honor and the Jerusalem Prize.
First hymns of praise for Stalin – then into exile
Kundera was born on April 1, 1929 in Brno, Moravia. He came from an educated family. His father was rector of a music college, his mother a teacher. His cousin Ludvik was a surrealist writer. As a teenager, Kundera learned the piano, joined the communist party in exuberance, and wrote hymns in praise of Stalin.
He celebrated his first major success in prose with loose stories about “ridiculous love”. They showed unequal lovers in grotesque situations. Kundera dealt with Stalinism in his novel “Der Joke”. But his distance from the regime soon grew. And Kundera later became a prominent representative of the socialist democracy movement “Prague Spring”.
His novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” made Kundera world famous.
Lived in France for decades
The Communist Party in what was then CSSR excluded Kundera from their ranks in 1970, and a short time later he was banned from publishing. In 1975 he received an exit visa and moved to France. In 1981 he took French citizenship.
In 2019 he regained Czech citizenship. The initiative for this went back to the former Prime Minister Andrej Babis. Kundera devoted many of his books to life in exile. The 2000 novel “The Ignorance” is about the difficulties of the returnees.
Visiting friends incognito
Kundera liked to spice up his novels with philosophical digressions. He saw himself as a defender of the European novel. “The novel is a meditation that goes to the bottom of existence through imaginary figures,” he once wrote. Kundera was always concerned with the big questions of identity, history and existence. He was often traded as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but it never came to be.
Little is known about the person behind the writer Kundera, even though he lived in the heart of Paris for decades. The novelist is the one who “seeks to disappear behind his own work,” he once remarked. He hardly gave interviews. He only visited childhood friends from Brno incognito – with a false beard and sunglasses.