Milan Kundera, a celebrated Czech-French author and one of the world’s most translated writers, died at the age of 94 in his Paris apartment on Tuesday, July 11, according to an announcement by the Moravian Library in Brno, a state-funded research organization.
Kundera gained international acclaim for his witty and tragicomic storytelling, often intertwining deep philosophical debates with satirical portrayals of life under communist oppression.
Born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in April 1929, Kundera was part of a generation of influential Czech writers and intellectuals who came of age during the turbulent post-World War II years. Initially a believer in the Communist Party, Kundera was expelled for criticizing the regime but later had his membership reinstated. During the Prague Spring in the late 1960s, Kundera’s novel “The Joke” was published, becoming a bestseller both at home and abroad.
However, his activities during the Prague Spring and the subsequent Soviet invasion in 1968 had lasting repercussions. By the early 1970s, Kundera’s books were banned, and he faced harassment from the communist police. Stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship, he went into exile in Paris, where he spent the rest of his life, and became a French citizen in 1981.
In Paris, Kundera flourished as a writer, publishing his most acclaimed works, including “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” and “Immortality.” Protective of his work, Kundera scrutinized translations and banned adaptations after the 1988 film based on “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” which he felt diverged from the spirit of the book.
Kundera’s complicated relationship with his homeland was evident in his shift from writing in Czech to French. He returned to the Czech Republic infrequently and under a pseudonym. While his Czech citizenship was restored in 2019, he remained a French author residing in France.
In 2008, an article published by the Czech weekly newspaper Respekt accused Kundera of being a communist police informant in 1950, an allegation he vehemently denied. Despite the controversy, Kundera received support from prominent Czech and international writers, including Vaclav Havel, the former Czech President and playwright.
Milan Kundera’s passing leaves a notable legacy of acclaimed novels that explore themes of disillusionment, responsibility, guilt, and denunciation. His works captivated readers worldwide, firmly establishing him as one of the literary giants of our time.