The author of the book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” gained respect for his style of describing themes and characters that float between the realities of everyday life and the lofty world of the imagination. He rarely gave interviews and believed that writers should speak through their writings.
His first novel “The Joke”, published in 1967, presents a terrifying picture of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia.
Coming at a time when Czech reformers sought to establish “socialism with a human face”, the book was the first step on Kundera’s path from party member to exiled dissident, a moniker he despised.
He told the French daily Le Monde in 1976 that calling his works political was too easy, thus obscuring his true meaning.
A year ago Kundera was elected after denouncing the Soviet coup in 1968 and was eventually forced to emigrate with his wife Vera to France, where he became a citizen.
His first book as an immigrant was “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” (1979), a story written in seven parts that showed the power of repressive regimes to erase some parts of history and create others of the past.
Although it is no longer known as “The Unbearable Light of Being”, published five years later, this book cemented Kundera’s reputation as a leading novelist with critics calling it a work of genius. It also cost him his Czechoslovakian citizenship. He also found Czech passport in 2019.
“Laughing and Forgetting calls itself a novel, even though it’s part fiction, part literary criticism, part political, part musical, and part autobiography,” said the New York Times in its review.
“It can call itself whatever it wants, because it’s all smart.”
Born in the Moravian capital of Brno on April 1, 1929 to a musician who studied under composer Leos Janacek, Kundera began writing poetry in high school and later studied at Charles University in Prague. World War II.
Like many boys of his age, he joined the Communist Party but was later expelled. In the 1960s he taught at a film school where his students attended Milos Formanwho was among the Czech New Wave filmmakers.
During his exile the author had a very cold relationship with his former homeland, writing his new works in French and even preventing some of his books from being translated into Czech. He once told an interviewer that he considered himself French and not an immigrant.
But Kundera never lost touch with his homeland and most of his books are set in the country of his birth. He never went home after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 toppled the Communist regime, instead entering the country quietly to visit friends and family.
Kundera was not known to the public but spoke publicly in 2008 to deny reports that he had been a teenage spy in the 1950s, who spent 14 years in uranium mines and prisons.
“It’s not true, the only mystery I can’t explain is how my name came about,” he said.
Translated into more than 20 languages, Kundera has won several literary awards, including the Prix Europa-Litterature for his work.
In 1973, “Life Is Elsewhere” won France’s prestigious Prix Medicis for best foreign novel, and “The Farewell Party”, a contemporary sex tale set in eastern Europe, won Italy’s Premio Mondello in 1978.
He was elected several times for The Nobel Prize in the books but did not succeed.
On receiving the Jerusalem Prize in 1985, Kundera said: “I am happy to think that the art of this book came to earth as a word expressing God’s laughter.”
Kundera explained his motivations for becoming a writer and his aversion to self-censorship in an interview with the New York Times that same year.
“It’s only writing that reveals an unknown piece of human existence that has a reason to exist,” he said in an interview. “Being a writer doesn’t mean preaching the truth, it means finding the truth.”