Czech writer and dissident Milan Kundera dies aged 94

By Thomas Brooke
3 Min Read

Czech-born French writer and essayist Milan Kundera has died at the age of 94, a spokesperson for the Moravian Library in his native city of Brno confirmed on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately I can confirm that Mr. Milan Kundera passed away yesterday (Tuesday) after a prolonged illness,” the spokeswoman told AFP.

The critically acclaimed writer, who grew up in Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia before moving to France, was most famous for literary works including “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” a novel later adapted into a film by U.S. director Philip Kaufman, and “The Joke,” an early work that criticized the Czechoslovakian Communist regime and led to his blacklisting by the government, the banning of his books, and ultimately his exile to Paris.

Writing his literature in Czech at first, Kundera translated his early works himself into French and began writing in that language following his move to France in 1975.

Kundera was one of the most famous writers of Czech origin, and his life was full of twists and turns. The son of a musician, he studied musical composition and became a lyricist before turning to satirical writing. His early works were overtly political; this aspect of his writing was toned down as he matured, with Kundera choosing instead to explore more ideological and philosophical questions.

Originally from Brno but exiled to France, Kundera had retreated into seclusion in recent decades, claiming that writers should speak mainly through their works. He had refused to give interviews since the late 1980s, expressing his desire to “disappear behind his work and renounce the role of a public figure.”

The writer regained his Czech citizenship in 2019, and the Milan Kundera Library in the Moravian Library was formed with around 4,000 of Kundera’s publications.

Kundera won multiple literary awards throughout his lifetime including the 1985 Jerusalem Prize, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1987, and the prestigious Herder Prize named after the German philosopher in 2000. He was also thought to be a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature and received the Golden Order of Merit from then Slovenian President Borut Pahor in 2021.

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