Czech-French writer Milan Kundera, best known for his poems, essays and novels including The Unbearable Lightness of Being, has died at the age of 94.
“Unfortunately, I can confirm that Mr. Milan Kundera passed away yesterday after a long illness,” said Anna Mrazova, spokeswoman for the library in his hometown of Brno.
“He died at home, in his Paris apartment,” she said.
The writer, poet and essayist has lived in France since emigrating from communist-ruled Czechoslovakia in 1975.
He was known for his dark, provocative novels dealing with the human condition, peppered with satire that reflected his experience of being stripped of Czech citizenship for dissenting opinion.
Kundera was born on April 1, 1929 in the second largest Czech city, Brno, and studied in Prague.
He translated the works of the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and wrote poems and short stories.
Kundera also taught at a film school, among his students was the later Oscar-winning director Milos Forman.
His seminal novel The Joke, about a young man expelled from the university and the Communist Party for an innocent joke, was published in 1967.
Kundera, himself a former communist, fell out of favor with the authorities after the 1968 Prague Spring reform movement was crushed by Soviet-led armies.
After leaving for France, Kundera taught at the University of Rennes.
Kundera rarely spoke to the public and was stripped of Czech citizenship in 1979 after the publication of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.
In 1981 he became a French citizen.
By far his most famous work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being was published in 1984 and made into a film in 1987, starring Juliette Binoche and Daniel Day-Lewis.
The novel is a moral tale about freedom and passion on an individual and collective level against the backdrop of the Prague Spring and its aftermath in exile.
Kundera has been criticized for being upset with his home country and for banning the translation of his French books into Czech. Kundera only regained his Czech citizenship in 2019.
It was 30 years after the former Czechoslovakia threw out Moscow-controlled communist rule in the Velvet Revolution of 1989, and 26 years after the country’s peaceful partition into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.
On his birthday that year, the Moravian Library in Brno opened the Kundera Library in Milan on one of its floors and displayed part of his collection of author’s copies in dozens of languages into which his books were translated.
Kundera was often touted as a favorite for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but he never succeeded.
“Not only Czech literature, but also world literature has lost one of the greatest contemporary writers and also one of the most translated writers,” Tomas Kubicek, director of the Kundera Library, told Czech public television.
European parliamentarians observed a minute’s silence in Strasbourg on Wednesday to commemorate Kundera.
Brno-born Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said Kundera’s work was able to “reach out to whole generations of readers on every continent”.
“He leaves behind notable works of fiction but also outstanding essays,” Fiala added on Twitter.