“Unfortunately, I can confirm that Mr. Milan Kundera passed away yesterday (Tuesday) after a long illness,” Anna Mrazova, a spokeswoman for the library in his hometown of Brno, told AFP.
“He died at home in his apartment in Paris,” she said.
The novelist, poet and essayist has lived in France since emigrating from communist Czechoslovakia in 1975.
He is known for his dark and provocative novels that deal with the human condition, sprinkled with satire that reflected his experience of being stripped of his Czech citizenship due to dissent.
The Czech news agency quoted the Czech ambassador to Paris, Michel Fleischman, as saying that Kundera wanted to be buried in his hometown of Brno.
Touring the shelves of the Prague Municipal Library on Wednesday, Jiri Hlavac said the news of Kundera’s death came as a “shock”.
“Milan Kundera is a phenomenon that I thought would never die,” he told AFP.
Hlavacek added, “He always gave me a reason to think more seriously about his subjects. Then his style is a long, complex sentence with a line at the end, and it’s a pleasure to read.”
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted his condolences to “Kundera’s wife and her loved ones to his readers”.
Macron added that Kundera “has adopted a worldview in his writings. His irony and genius have made his works one of the classics of our time.”
Born on April 1, 1929, Kundera studied at a secondary school in Brno before moving to Prague to study literary sciences and then screenwriting at university.
He translated the works of the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and wrote poetry—including a collection of poems praising communism—as well as short stories.
Kundera also taught at the Prague Film School, where his students included future Academy Award-winning director Milos Forman.
His masterpiece novel, The Joke, about a young man who is expelled from college and the Communist Party for a poorly conceived joke, was published in 1967.
A former communist himself, Kundera fell out of favor with the authorities after the Prague Spring reform movement was crushed by Soviet-led armies in 1968.
After leaving for France, Kundera taught at the University of Rennes and the École graduate school in Paris.
Seldom addressing the public, Kundera was stripped of his Czech citizenship in 1979, after publishing Laughter and Forgetting.
He obtained French citizenship in 1981.
By far his most famous work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being was published in 1984 and adapted with Juliette Binoche and Daniel Day-Lewis in 1987.
The novel is a moralizing story of freedom and passion, individually and collectively, against the Prague Spring and its aftermath in exile.
His bitter relationship with his homeland took another blow in 2008, when a Czech magazine accused him of being a police informant under communist rule. Kundera denied the news, describing it as “pure lies”.
Criticized for his resentment of his homeland and his decision to ban the translation of his French books into Czech, Kundera only regained his Czech citizenship in 2019.
This was 30 years after the former Czechoslovakia overthrew the Moscow-led communist regime in the Velvet Revolution in 1989, and 26 years after the country’s peaceful split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.
on all continents
On his birthday this year, the Moravian Library in Brno opened the Milan Kundera Library on one of its floors, displaying part of its collection of copies of the author in the dozens of languages into which his books have been translated.
Kundera has been repeatedly described as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but he has never done so.
European lawmakers in Strasbourg observed a minute’s silence for Kundera on Wednesday.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, also born in Brno, said Kundera was able to “capture entire generations of readers on all continents” with his work.
“He left behind wonderful works of fiction, but also wonderful,” Philae added on Twitter.
French Culture Minister Rima Abdel Malek said in a tweet that she felt “great sadness”.
She added, “With him, one of the greatest voices in European literature died.”