“The flat is completely empty now”: Milan Kundera’s library moves to Brno

The archive of the world-famous writer Milan Kundera is currently in the process of being transported to his home city of Brno, where the collected works are being catalogued and digitised by the staff at the Moravian Library. The archive should open to visitors by February 2023.

Milan Kundera | Photo: Elisa Cabot,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 2.0

When Milan Kundera moved to France in 1975 he was already relatively famous. His book The Joke, which French poet Louis Aragon called “one of the greatest novels of the century”, had already been translated into English.

The author, who is now 93, has remained living in Paris ever since and so has his archive. However, since June of this year, Kundera’s extensive collection of books, essays, articles, critiques, drawings and short texts is gradually being moved out of his Parisian flat and transferred to the Moravian Library in Brno, the author’s hometown.

Moravian Library in Brno | Photo: Millenium187,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

Kundera’s wife, Věra, who has been caring for the collection for decades, told Czech Radio it was a sad moment.

“I have been working with the archive for 40 years. That’s 40 years of our lives. Milan wrote the books, but I am an archivist so I knew everything and I know what Mr Kubíček is taking to Brno.

“The flat is completely empty now. I can prove that to you with a photograph. It’s quite terrible and hard to see, those two lives that are now gone. Those lives left together with the library, with the archive.”

Nevertheless, she said she also feels at ease about the collected works returning to her husband’s hometown where, she hopes, the director of the Moravian Library Tomáš Kubíček will take great care of the archive.

Tomáš Kubíček | Photo: Zdeněk Truhlář,  Czech Radio

For his part, Mr Kubíček, who has worked on several projects covering the life and work of Milan Kundera, says that “the whole collection is a great treasure”. He told Radio Prague International in 2020, when the gift of the archive by Kundera to the library had been announced, that a special section of the library will be dedicated exclusively to the writer’s archive.

“We are planning to set up a special reading room for Kundera’s collection. It will serve not only as a reading room, but also as a place for readers’ discussions, public readings, meetings with Czech and foreign authors, reflecting Kundera’s worldwide acclaim.”

Photo: Moravská zemská knihovna Brno

Věra Kunderová says that she has put much work into cataloguing and referencing the various texts that have gradually been making their way to Brno.

Her work is being built on further by the Moravian Library’s archivists, who are busy sorting and digitising the archive that will subsequently become accessible to readers, students and researchers within the spaces of a section of the Moravian Library that has been named the “Library of Milan Kundera”. The space, designed by architect Martin Hrdina, should become open to the public by February of next year at the latest.

Authors: Thomas McEnchroe , Martin Balucha
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