Milan Kundera, Literary Star Dies at 94

Written By Tracy Chad Published On Jul 13, 2023
Milan Kundera, Literary Star Dies at 94

Milan Kundera died in Paris on Tuesday. He was an outcast of the Communist Party who became a global literary star with dark, sexually charged novels that showed the suffocating absurdity of life in his home country of Czechoslovakia's workers' paradise. He was 94.

Gallimard, the French company that published Mr. Kundera's books, said on Wednesday that he had died "after a long illness."

The first of Mr. Kundera's popular books was "The Joke," which came out in 1967 during the Prague Spring and was praised by critics. However, it was quickly banned after Soviet-led troops crushed the experiment in "Socialism with a human face" a few months later. He wrote "The Festival of Insignificance" (2015) when he was in his mid-80s and living well in Paris.

the joke book Milan Kundera

The novel was his first new work of fiction to be published since the year 2000; however, its reception was, at best, lukewarm, especially in comparison to his novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," which remains one of his most widely read works.

Since its initial publication in 1984, "Unbearable Lightness" has been reprinted in at least a dozen languages. The novel gained even more attention when it was adapted into a 1988 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis as one of the novel's central characters, Tomas, a Czech surgeon who criticizes the Communist leadership and is thus forced to wash windows for a living.

Kundera's masterwork, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," depicted a love triangle set against the backdrop of the Prague Spring. When it was published in 1984, Kundera became an international literary sensation.

Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche in a scene from the 1988 movie “The Unbearable Lightness of Being

At the time, the dissident Czech novelist had been living in exile in Paris for nearly a decade. His works were banned in Czechoslovakia, and he remained the country's most famous exiled author after the Soviet-backed Communist government stripped him of citizenship in 1978.

Tomas, a relentless philanderer, is always interested in meeting new women, including bored housewives, so window washing is a pretty good deal for him. Like Tomas and the other three main characters — his wife, a seductive painter, and the painter's lover — the sex serves a greater purpose. In its list of the best books published in 1984, the New York Times Book Review stated, "This author's real business is to find images for his country's disastrous history in his lifetime."

"He uses the four without remorse, pitting each pair against the other as opposites in every way, to describe a world in which all options have been exhausted, and people can no longer express their humanity." In her book "Misogynies," which came out in 1989, the British feminist Joan Smith said that all of Kundera's writings about women share a theme of hostility.

Mr. Kundera in Paris in 1984.

Mr. Kundera had a deep admiration for Central European thinkers and artists such as Nietzsche, Kafka, Vienna's Robert Musil and Hermann Broch, and the Czech Republic's Leos Janacek. Mr. Kundera stated that, like Broch, he sought "that which the novel alone can discover," including "the truth of uncertainty."


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