The Czech-born novelist and playwright Milan Kundera has died at the age of 94, Anna Márazková, a spokeswoman for the Moravian Provincial Library in Brno, confirmed on Wednesday, according to the Czech news agency CTK.
One of the most important writers of the 20th century, known worldwide, a dual Czech and French citizen, died in Paris on Tuesday after a long illness, CTK said, referring to the writer’s wife Vera Kundera.
Milan Kundera was born in Brno, southern Moravia, in 1929 and became internationally famous mainly for his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, published in the 1960s and later translated into 44 languages.
His 1967 novel, The Joke, which was made into a film in 1968, was a caricature of the cult of the personality. The leaders of Czechoslovak cultural policy reacted hysterically: he was expelled from the party, lost his university post and his books were banned from the shelves of shops and libraries.
After actively supporting the reform process of 1968, known as the Prague Spring, he came into conflict with the Czechoslovak communist authorities of the time and emigrated to France in 1975. He was stripped of his Czechoslovak (Czech) citizenship in 1979 and only regained it in 2019.
Although the author has rarely visited his native country since the fall of communism and has practically never been involved in Czech literary and cultural life, his works and life have remained of enduring interest to Czechs. The recent publication of a new biography of Kundera, Kundera: Life and Times in Bohemia, by the publicist Jan Novák, became a real bestseller, disappearing from bookshops within days and selling out of reprints just as quickly. Jan Novák has announced plans to write a history of Kundera’s years in France.
The Milan Kundera Library, an independent section of the Moravian Provincial Library (MZK), contains more than 3,000 books published in 44 languages by the Czech writer, who has lived in France since the second half of the 1970s, as well as a large part of his personal archive and correspondence, and the press coverage of his works published around the world.
In 2020, the world-famous writer donated his books, archives of articles, letters and other documents to the Moravian Provincial Library in his hometown of Brno.
Milan Kundera has often been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 1985, the Nelly Sachs Prize in 1987, the Jaroslav Seifert Prize in the Czech Republic in 1994, the Herder Prize in 2000 and the Paul Morand Prize in 2001. In 2009, he was awarded the Simone and Cino del Duca Foundation of the French Academy in recognition of his life’s work.