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

The Czech novelist’s hit was adapted into a film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche in 1988

Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera

Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist whose international 1984 hit “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” was adapted into a film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche, has died, his publisher announced Wednesday. He was 94.

Kundera died Tuesday in France after a prolonged illness, according to the French publishing house Gallimard.

“Unbearable Lightness,” about a philandering Czech surgeon who regularly cheats on his wife with a carefree artist, was a global hit reprinted in dozens of languages. Its political undertones mirrored Kundera’s own experiences during the 1968 Prague Spring, the setting for the novel, which was crushed by Soviet invaders and sent him to exile in France in 1975.

“Lightness” was adapted for the screen by Philip Kaufman in 1988, and starred Day-Lewis as Tomas, who becomes a window washer after his political views get him expelled from his profession. Binoche played his wife, while Lena Olin portrayed the seductive painter whom he regularly meets for sex.

The film was nominated for two Oscars, including adapted screenplay and cinematography. Kaufman won a BAFTA for his adaptation.

JuJuliette Binoche and Daniel Day-Lewis in a scene from the film ‘The Unbearable Lightness Of Being’, 1988. (Photo by Orion/Getty Images)

None of Kundera’s other works ever rose to the towering success of “Lightness,” though several were adapted for film and TV in the Czech Republic. His regular depiction of men behaving badly, particularly toward women, drew criticism from feminists and elsewhere; his characters maintained a distinct separation between love and sex, and he supported the release and restoration of Polish director Roman Polanski.

Kundera was exceptionally private and rarely gave interviews or disclosed details of his personal life. His Czech citizenship, revoked after his exile, was restored in 2019.