PRAGUE, July 12 (Reuters) – Milan Kundera, the Czech author of the novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” who lived in Paris for nearly five decades after a disillusioned exile from his Communist-ruled homeland, has died at his age. 94.
The Moravian Library (MZK) in the Czech city of Brno, which houses the personal collections of Kundera, said he died on Tuesday in his Paris apartment after a long illness.
Kundera has won universal acclaim for the way he portrays themes and characters that float between the mundane reality of everyday life and the world of high ideals.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said his works “reached a whole generation of readers on all continents”, while President Petr Pavel called him a “world-class writer”.
“With his fate in life, he symbolized the eventful history of our country in the 20th century,” Pavel said. “Kundera’s legacy will live on in his works.”
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Kundera was “a writer and a voice that we will miss”.
“Milan Kundera’s work is simultaneously profound, human, intimate and far-reaching,” he said.
Kundera was born in Brno in 1929, but moved to France in 1975 after being exiled for criticizing the 1968 Soviet invasion of communist Czechoslovakia, which crushed the Prague Spring liberal reform movement.
He rarely gave interviews, believed that writers should speak through their works, and lived out of the public eye.
Fellow Czech writer Karel Hvistala told Czech television that he had seen his friend last November and that he was already ill.
“I remember there was only one book, ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus, in his hospital bed at home,” he said.
Kundera’s first novel, “The Joke,” was published in 1967 and offered a harsh portrayal of the Czechoslovak communist regime and the ruling party, of which he was still a member.
He eventually gave up hope of reforming the party in a democratic direction and moved to France. Four years later, he was stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship.
In 1976 he told the French newspaper Le Monde that calling his works political was an exaggeration and therefore obscured their true significance, but his books often took a political tone.
“The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” (1979) is a story written in seven parts that shows the power of totalitarian regimes to erase parts of history and create an alternate past – something the New York Times called “genius” in its review. .
His best-known book, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1984), focuses on the Prague Spring and its tumultuous demise, with the Czechs hopeless about retreating from the grip of totalitarianism or emigrating to the West.
It was made into a film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche and directed by Philip Kaufman in 1988, earning two Academy Award nominations.
Oxford University Professor Timothy Gordon Ash, a writer and historian focusing on Central Europe, said Kundera “did much to inject the idea and culture of Central Europe into the world’s imagination”.
Kundera once told an interviewer that he considered himself more French than an immigrant. Later he wrote novels in French.
In reporting his death, Le Monde called him “a tireless defender of the novel”.
“Undoubtedly the most European of writers, he personified the subtle differences of our world,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, which peacefully overthrew Czechoslovakia’s communist regime and ushered in a pro-Western democracy, Kundera rarely went home, but quietly visited friends and family.
He regained his Czech citizenship in 2019.
reporting by John Lopatka and Robert Muller in Prague and Elisabeth Pino and Tassilo Hummel in Paris; Written by Michael Kahn and Jason Howett; Editing by Toby Chopra, Kevin Liffey, Mark Heinrich and Nick MacPhee
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