Milan Kundera, the Czech-born novelist and essayist who authored ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ and ‘The Joke,’ has died in Paris at the age of 94, Czech broadcaster CT24 reported on Wednesday.
Much of the circumstances of his death have not yet been revealed, however a spokesperson for the Milan Kundera Library in his native Brno confirmed on Wednesday that he died a day prior “after a prolonged illness.”
Kundera who, along with Franz Kafka and Vaclav Havel, was among the most prominent writers to have emerged from the Czech literary scene over the course of the past century, was frequently hailed for his writing style, which often merged themes of mundanity with extravagance.
The writer – who was touted as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature – was celebrated for his revered works, including ‘The Joke’, ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’ and ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being.’
Kundera was born in Brno in 1929 but moved to France in 1975, after criticizing the 1968 Soviet incursion in then-Czechoslovakia. He was stripped of his Czech citizenship four years after arriving in France, where he was granted citizenship in 1981.
The son of a famous pianist, Kundera began his studies in Prague, where he would later join the Communist Party and make literary inroads by translating the works of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. He also taught at a film school, where Milos Forman – the Oscar-winning director of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ – was among his students.
His most celebrated literary work, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, explored themes of freedom and passion, set against the backdrop of the Prague Spring. The book was released in 1984 and was made into a film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche in 1987.
However, critics of Kundera accused him of turning his back on a generation of Czech dissidents during his more than 40-year exile in France. In 2008, Kundera denounced as “pure lies” allegations in a Czech magazine that he had been a police informant in his native country.
In 2013, Kundera published what would be his final novel, ‘The Festival of Insignificance’. The book told the story of five friends living in Paris, but received mixed reviews from the literary press, with The Guardian describing it as a “stinker.”
After four decades in France with only brief and occasional visits back to his homeland, Kundera and his wife Vera had their Czech citizenship restored in 2019 following a meeting with then-Prime Minister Andrej Babis. A year later, the Czech ambassador in France personally delivered Kundera’s citizenship certificate, describing it as an “important symbolic gesture, a symbolic return of the greatest Czech writer in the Czech Republic.”
Earlier this year, the Milan Kundera Library was officially opened in Brno, ensuring that the author’s literary reach will extend beyond his passing.