New Milan Kundera Library aims to draw European thinkers to Brno

The keenly awaited Milan Kundera Library had its grand opening this weekend on April 1, the day of the celebrated writer's 94th birthday. The collection, which includes around 4,000 of Kundera’s publications, is being housed on the first floor of the Moravian State Library in Brno, the author’s hometown.

Photo: Moravian Library Brno

The news that Kundera’s private library and archive would be transported from his Paris home to Brno and donated to the Moravian Library was first announced almost three years ago. The idea came from the writer’s wife, Věra, says the head of the Moravian Library Tomáš Kubíček.

“The Milan Kundera Library came about thanks to a brilliant idea by Věra, when we were preparing an exhibition of Kundera’s works in, I think, 2018. While we were going through that huge pile of books, Věra came and said ‘Wouldn’t it be better if one day you took care of this and took it to the Moravian Library?’”

Photo: Moravian Library Brno

Milan Kundera enthusiastically agreed to the idea, according to Kubíček, but it took a few years for the plan to come to fruition, with the transfer of the archive being postponed and delayed multiple times due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Finally, in the autumn of last year, 4,000 volumes of books by Kundera and around 25 archive boxes of written material were loaded up in Paris and transported to Brno.

Milan Kundera's library | Photo: Magdalena Hrozínková,  Radio Prague International

Books are now accessible to readers for in-person borrowing, and documents will be scanned, digitised, and made available in electronic form. However, the library is intended to serve not only as a reading and study room, but also as a space for discussions, public readings, and meetings with Czech and international authors. Tomáš Kubíček says that he hopes that the Milan Kundera Library will become a distinctive cultural institution, which in its own way will contribute to the development of thinking about Europe and will help to put Brno on the cultural map of the continent.

Milan Kundera's library | Photo: Magdalena Hrozínková,  Radio Prague International

“We expect that famous personalities from European and world cultural life will travel to Brno to come to the library, and will think with us about the themes that appear in Kundera’s novels. And given that Kundera’s novels and essays open up a whole range of options, I think there will be some lively debates.”

Exactly how this cultural program will look will be decided by the library’s programme board, made up of prominent European literary and cultural personalities.

“I’m very glad that they accepted the offer to become part of the programme board, because it testifies to the fact that Kundera is really a person who opens up these kinds of opportunities. Among others there is Teresa Cremisi, Yasmina Reza, Juergen Boos, the French ambassador Alexis Dutertre, Martin Glaser, director of the National Theatre in Brno, and Adam Thirlwell, a fantastic English author. Altogether there are nine of us who will have the opportunity to think about the question of what should be in the programme at the Milan Kundera library.”

Milan Kundera's library | Photo: Magdalena Hrozínková,  Radio Prague International

Among the attendees at Saturday’s opening were Czech Culture Minister Martin Baxa and Antoine Gallimard, the French publisher who from the beginning has had exclusive rights to publishing Kundera’s works in France. He travelled from Paris to Brno in place of the Kunderas as, according to the publisher, Kundera himself is very ill.

Antoine Gallimard | Photo: Magdalena Hrozínková,  Radio Prague International

“We are connected by our long-standing professional relationship and also our long-standing friendship. Long ago we published his book Laughable Loves thanks to a translator, although we didn't know each other personally at that time. My father then brought Milan’s royalties to Prague for him, which Milan was very happy about because he had just been kicked out of FAMU and he and Věra had nothing to live on.

“After he arrived in France, we helped him get a place at university and also French citizenship. He and Věra always made a very nice couple. Plus, they were fun. Milan is an intellectual, but at the same time, he is a very sensitive person who likes people. This is not always automatic for all writers.”