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Milan Kundera, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ Novelist, Dies at 94

Flowers on a casket. (Unsplash)

Milan Kundera, whose 1984 novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” was turned into an Oscar-nominated film, has died at the age of 94.

Kundera died Tuesday in Paris after a long illness, Jindra Pavelková, a representative of the Moravian Library, the Czech library housing his personal collection, told Variety Wednesday.

“Milan Kundera was a writer who reached whole generations of readers across all continents and achieved global fame,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said. “He leaves behind not only notable fiction, but also significant essay work.”

The 1988 film adaptation of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” was directed by Philip Kaufman and starred Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche. Jean-Claude Carrière and Kaufman were Oscar nominated for adapted screenplay, and Sven Nykvist was Oscar nominated for cinematography.

Other films based on his writing include 1965’s “Nobody Will Laugh,” directed by Hynek Bocan, which won the Grand Prize at Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival, 1969’s “The Joke,” directed by Jaromil Jires, which played at San Sebastián Film Festival, and 1969’s “I, the Distressing God,” directed by Antonín Kachlík.

Kundera was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1929. His first novel, “The Joke,” was published in 1967, and was greeted with acclaim. French poet Louis Aragon called it “one of the greatest novels of the century.”

In 1968, the Prague Spring, a period of liberal reform in Czechoslovakia, was crushed by Soviet troops. Kundera criticized the invasion, and was subsequently ostracized by the Communist regime, and sacked from his post at Prague’s FAMU film school. “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” centers on the Prague Spring and its aftermath.

In 1975, he emigrated to France, and was stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship four years later. He became a French citizen in 1981, and lived in France until his death, although he was made a citizen of the Czech Republic in 2019.

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