Prague, Czech Republic – The Franz Kafka Prize 2020 was awarded to Milan Kundera and handed to his Czech translator Anna Kareninová during a ceremony held in Prague earlier this week.
In September last year, world-famous Czech-born writer Milan Kundera, who has been living in France since the 1970s, was announced as the 2020 recipient of the Franz Kafka Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country.
“The most Czech of all French writers”
The official ceremony, which commonly takes place in October, was postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and instead held on Thursday at the French Embassy in Prague.
Praising the incredible work and invaluable contribution to world literature of “the most Czech of all French writers and the most French of all Czech writers”, France’s envoy to Prague Alexis Dutertre handed the award to Kundera’s Czech translator, Anna Kareninová (no relation to Tolstoy’s heroine, we’re told).
M. Kundera, 92, rarely appears in public and seldom travels back to his native country.
Former recipients of the Franz Kafka Prize, created in honour of the most famous Czech writer in history, include Philip Roth (2001), Ivan Klima (2002), Haruki Murakami (2006), Peter Handke (2009), Vaclav Havel (2010) and Margaret Atwood (2017).
Kundera’s problematic relation with native Czech Republic
“Thirty years ago, I was a student at the Paris Institute of Political Sciences,” French Ambassador M. Dutertre said, quoted by Radio Prague. “I used to work in a café right next to Sciences Po. As it happens, Milan Kundera was a regular customer of this very same café, with his wife. It took me several months to summon the courage to walk over there and ask him to autograph the book of his that made the greatest impression on me, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being'”.
On top of accepting the prize in Kundera’s name, famed translator Anna Kareninová was awarded one of France’s highest cultural distinctions during the event, also attended by Culture Minister Lubomir Zaoralek and President of the Senate Milos Vystrcil.
Since the late 1980s, all of Kundera’s novels have originally been written in French, and the Brno-born author had, until last year, refused they be translated into his native Czech – a choice that further complicated an already-strained relationship with his native country.
Main photo credit: René Volfik / French Institute in Prague