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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Elizabeth Gregory

Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, dies aged 94

Celebrated Czech-French writer Milan Kundera, the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, has died aged 94.

A spokesperson for the Milan Kundera Library said that the award-winning author, whose many novels, short stories, poetry collections, essays and non-fiction books reflect on the strangeness of life, died after a prolonged illness.

His novels became distinct for exploring philosophical concepts through using vivid imagery, relationships, and characters so well-constructed that they sometimes felt like they could climb out of the novels they lived in.

Although best remembered for his 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera’s work had been met with acclaim – and pushback – since the off.

His first novel The Joke, which was published in 1967, was banned in his native Czechoslovakia (as it was then) the following year after the Soviets squashed the political mass protest known as the Prague Spring. It became popular at the time with many supporters of the country’s liberation movement.

Yet despite a six-decade long career of thought-provoking publications, The Unbearable Lightness of Being would be his magnum opus. The great novel is about the lives of four people living in Czechoslovakia during the 1968 Prague Spring. It was turned into a 1988 film, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, who played Tomas, and Juliette Binoche, who played Tereza, and directed by Philip Kaufman.

Kundera was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, but fled to France in 1975 after his work criticised the ruling Communist Party which had taken over in 1948.

He had been expelled as a Communist Party member in 1950 for “anti-party activities”, and although he was later readmitted, was expelled for a second time in 1970. In 1979, Kundera was left with no choice but to make France his home as he was stripped of his citizenship (it was only reinstated by the government of the Czech Republic in 2019).

Kundera became a French citizen in 1981, and so wholeheartedly left his life in Eastern Europe behind he even started to write novels in French. Nesmrtelnost (Immortality), which was published in 1988, was his last novel written in Czech.

Kundera was awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Prize in 1985, which is awarded for work that explores human freedom. He also won The Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1987, the international Herder Prize in 2000, the Czech State Literature Prize in 2007, the Ovid Prize in 2011 and the Franz Kafka Prize in 2020.

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