Novelist Kundera dodges Czech conference, says he's 'French'

1st June 2009, Comments 0 comments

Czech-born writer Milan Kundera turned his back on his homeland once again when he failed to show up at a major conference on his work this weekend in his southern home city of Brno.

PRAGUE - Czech-born writer Milan Kundera turned his back on his homeland once again when he failed to show up at a major conference on his work this weekend in his southern home city of Brno.

The Paris-based author, who turned 80 on 1 April, stuck to his rules of visiting his native country only sporadically -- and always incognito -- and avoiding public appearances in general.

Kundera sent good-humoured thanks for the "necrophile party" in a letter to the organisers of the three-day event, which drew scholars and translators from as far away as Chicago, Paris, Reykjavik, Rome and Warsaw.

He also told them, in a message read by one of the speakers, that he "sees himself as a French writer and insists his work should be studied as French literature and classified as such in book stores".

Jan Tlusty, a lecturer at Brno's Masaryk University, said this was the first international conference on Kundera held on Czech soil.

A confirmed communist in the 1950s and then a reformed "freethinker" in the 1960s, Kundera left the former Czechoslovakia for France in 1975 and became a French citizen in 1981.

Since writing "Immortality" in the Czech language in 1990, Kundera has only published his books in French, and banned Czech editors from publishing his books in their language until recently.

The author of such works as "The Joke" (1967) and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1984) even shunned a return home in 2007 to pick up the Czech National Prize for Literature he was awarded that year.

The first time Kundera spoke to the Czech press after emigrating was late last year, when a Czech magazine accused him of being a police informer under communist rule.

He denied the allegation as "pure lies" in an episode that further tarnished his reputation among critics back home where the old regime still strikes a nerve -- but spilled lots of ink as fellow writers rose up in Kundera's support.

For his detractors, "Kundera was a communist, he did not support dissidents after his emigration, and he has never repented," said Martin Petras from Lille University in France.

AFP / Sophie Pons / Expatica

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