Milan Kundera, the renowned and isolated author whose dissident works transformed him into a satirical exile from totalitarianism and explorer of identity and the human condition, died in Paris. He was 94 years old.
Kundera passed away Tuesday afternoon, his publisher Gallimard said in a one-sentence statement Wednesday. The publisher confirmed that he died in Paris, where he has lived for decades, but did not provide any further information.
The European Parliament observed a minute’s silence at the news of his death. Kundera had French and Czech nationality, which she lost and later regained.
He was a man of few words whose novels were translated into dozens of languages. He loathed the publicity that came with fame and refused to give interviews.
“I dream of a world where writers are required by law to keep their identities secret and use pseudonyms,” he wrote in his 1986 essay, “The Art of the Novel.” Kundera used that sentence to answer questions posed to him by Le Monde des Livres in 2011, by accepting an “interview” through the responses to his works.
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, Kundera’s best-known novel, it begins harrowingly with Soviet tanks rolling through Prague, the Czech capital that was the author’s home until he moved to France in 1975. Weaving together themes of love, exile, politics, and deeply personal concerns, Kundera’s novel Kundera won critical acclaim, earning him a large readership among Westerners who embraced both his anti-Soviet subversion and the eroticism that pervades many of his works.
“If someone had said to me as a child: ‘One day you will see your nation disappear from the world’, I would have considered it nonsense, something I could not imagine. A man knows that he is mortal, but he takes it for granted that his nation possesses a kind of eternal life,” he told author Philip Roth in a New York Times interview in 1980, a year before he became a French citizen. naturalized.
In 1989, the Velvet Revolution ousted the communists from power and Kundera’s nation was reborn as the Czech Republic, but by then he had made a new life and a complete identity in his apartment on the left bank of the Seine in Paris.
“Milan Kundera was a writer who was able to reach generations of readers on all continents with his work and achieved worldwide fame…” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala tweeted. “He left behind not only a remarkable work of fiction, but also an important work of essay.”
Fiala expressed her condolences to Kundera’s wife, Věra, who protected her lonely husband from the intrusions of the world.
“His life symbolized the turbulent history of our country in the 20th century. Kundera’s legacy will live on in his works,” said Czech President Petr Pavel.
To say that his relationship with the land of his birth was complex would be an understatement. He returned to the Czech Republic on rare occasions and incognito, even after the fall of the Iron Curtain. His works, eventually written in French, were later translated into Czech.
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, which earned him so much praise and was made into a movie in 1988, It was not published in the Czech Republic until 2006, 17 years after the Velvet Revolution, although it has been available in Czech since 1985 by a compatriot who founded a publishing house in exile in Canada. Kundera eventually won the State Prize for Literature for it.
Věra, was an essential companion to Kundera, who shunned technology, was his translator, his secretary, and ultimately his barrier against the outside world. It was she who fostered her friendship with Roth by serving as his language broker and, according to a 1985 profile of the couple, it was she who handled the inevitable demands on a world-famous author.
Kundera’s writings, whose debut novel “The Joke” begins with a young man who is sent to the mines after downplaying communist slogans, were banned in Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968, when he also lost his job. as a film teacher Kundera had been writing novels and plays since 1953.
Kundera’s name was often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but honor eluded him.
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” follows a dissident surgeon from Prague to exile in Geneva and back home. Due to his refusal to bow to the communist regime, the surgeon Tomás is forced to become a window cleaner and uses his new profession to arrange sex with hundreds of clients. Tomás finally lives out his last days in the countryside with his wife, Tereza, and his lives become more dreamlike and tangible as the days go by.
Jiri Srstka, Kundera’s Czech literary agent at the time the book was finally published in the Czech Republic, said that the author himself delayed its release there fearing it would be poorly edited.
“Kundera had to reread the entire book, rewrite sections, make additions, and edit all the text. So, given his perfectionism, this was a long-term job, but now readers will get the book that Milan Kundera thinks should exist,” Ststka told Radio Praha at the time.
Kundera refused to appear on camera, refused any annotation when his collected works were published in 2011, and previously did not allow any digital copies of his writings, reflecting his loyalty to the printed word. Today, however, a Kindle version of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is among her books offered on Amazon and Google Books.
In a June 2012 speech to the National Library of France – reread on French radio by a friend – said he feared for the future of literature.
the books, in danger
“It seems to me that time, which continues its merciless march, begins to endanger books. It is because of this anguish that, for several years, I have had a clause in all my contracts that stipulates that they must be published only in the traditional form of a book, that they must be read only on paper and not on a screen, ”he said. “People walk down the street, they no longer have contact with those around them, nor do they see the houses they pass by, they have wires hanging from their ears. They gesticulate, they must, they don’t look at anyone and nobody looks at them. I wonder, don’t they read books anymore? It is possible, but for how much longer?
In 2021, Kundera donated his library and archive to the Brno Public Library, where he was born and spent his childhood. The Moravian Library has a vast collection of Kundera’s works. Items donated include editions of his books in Czech and 40 other languages, articles written by and about him, published reviews and criticisms of his work, authorized photographs, and even drawings by the author.
Despite his fierce protection of his private life, Kundera was forced to review his past in 2008, when the Czech Republic’s Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes revealed documents indicating that in 1950, when he was a 21-year-old student years ago, Kundera told police about someone in her bedroom. The man was eventually found guilty of espionage and sentenced to hard labor for 22 years.
The researcher who published the report, Adam Hradilek, he defended it as the product of extensive research on Kundera.
“He has sworn his Czech friends to silence, so even they are not willing to talk to journalists about who Milan Kundera is and who was,” Hradilek said at the time.
Kundera called the report a lie, telling the Czech news agency CTK that it amounted to “the murder of an author.”
A 1985 profile, which is among the longest and most detailed on record, examines Kundera’s life in Paris. In it, the author foreshadowed the pain that such an accusation probably caused him.
“For me, indiscretion is a cardinal sin. Anyone who reveals the intimate life of another person deserves to be flogged. We live in a time when private life is being destroyed. The police destroy it in communist countries, journalists threaten it in democratic countries, and little by little the people themselves lose their taste for private life and the meaning of it, ”she told the writer Olga Carlisle. “Life when one cannot hide from the eyes of others, that is hell.”