Author Milan Kundera has died


The Czech-born French novelist Milan Kundera died on Tuesday aged 94. After the crushing of the Prague Spring, Kundera became persona non grata in Czechoslovakia and moved to France in 1975. He later began writing only in French. His novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being became a global success in 1984. Europe’s press pays tribute to Kundera as a writer with tremendous political acumen.


Echo24 (CZ) /

Eco, García Márquez, Kundera

Not without a touch of national pride, Echo24 places Milan Kundera among the elite of world literature:

“Great literature was also created here, in an otherwise relatively insignificant country. The greatest essayists and critics paid tribute to Kundera’s novel The Joke in magazines all over the world. ... And when Kundera published The Unbearable Lightness of Being when he was already in exile it was a worldwide bestseller. Not of the Dan Brown or Fifty Shades of Grey kind, but a book that immediately entered the canon of the modern novel — and will remain there. You could say that there are only three truly great post-war world novels: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

Jiří Peňás
Le Figaro (FR) /

Critic of instantaneity

Kundera’s warnings against the media society are still relevant today, Le Figaro points out:

“The eternal exile feared for the literature menaced by the tyranny of the news, for time swept away by instantaneity, for nuance. ... In the mid-1980s, Kundera chose silence in a quasi-existential reflex, fleeing from the role that media society assigns to those who take part in it. ... He refused to give interviews or make media appearances. Only his rare and precious writings should speak for him. Forty years on, his warnings still ring out, amplified by the tremendous expansion of digital technology and its impact on thought and debate, which to say the least constitutes an immense upheaval.”

Étienne de Montety
Gość Niedzielny (PL) /

The lasting impact of the Prague Spring

Gość Niedzielny examines Kundera’s work with a focus on his criticism of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968:

“These events meant that the author’s works were blacklisted and prompted his emigration to France. Their consequences also became the starting point of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It is a bitter diagnosis — not only of the regime itself, but also of the existence of a person on a quest for pleasure and a carefree life. This is a life that slips through one’s fingers and brings no satisfaction. ... Perhaps the most important message of Kundera’s work remains the warning that a life without responsibility ultimately becomes unbearable, and the longed-for lightness often turns out to be a burden.”

Szymon Babuchowski
Financial Times (GB) /

Sensitive to Europe as a whole

The Financial Times looks back:

“He was sensitive not only to the plight of small nations under totalitarian rule, but also to how Soviet communism ruptured the unity of European culture. One of his most powerful works is A Kidnapped West: The Tragedy of Central Europe (1984), an essay in which he argued that Czechoslovakia — dissolved in 1993 into two states — and other central European countries had formed an integral part of western culture for centuries, but had been ‘kidnapped’ by the Soviet Union after the second world war and forced into a Moscow-dominated eastern bloc.”

Tony Barber