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The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan…

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (original 1984; edition 1984)

by Milan Kundera

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15,483161118 (4.04)1 / 266
Title:The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Authors:Milan Kundera
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Identity, Modern fiction, Czech literature, Metaphors, Vertigo, Classics, Love

Work details

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1984)

  1. 30
    The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa (Eustrabirbeonne)
  2. 00
    Sophie's Choice by William Styron (rretzler)
  3. 00
    Love by Angela Carter (Ludi_Ling)
    Ludi_Ling: Both treatments on the intricacies of love and romantic/sexual relationships. Kundera's is the more readable of the two, but the themes running through them are very similar.

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Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
Well, shit. ( )
  -sunny- | Jul 15, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.



When I bought this book years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I was still the immature kid who wanted to show an air of superiority then, and I thought that having this book in my library would add to the effect.

But I did not read it immediately. Maybe I was too busy then? My best friend saw this book and she borrowed it. Coincidentally, she was trying to call me from London last night, but I was not able to take her call because I was in deep slumber. But that’s beside the point.

She told me that the book is wonderful, telling me how the narrative flows and how the author shifts from plot to philosophy and vice versa. I have a huge respect for her taste, so I considered reading it as soon as she returned it to me.

The Rhapsody

Two men, two women, and a dog. And Prague! I am dying to see Prague! Just imagine having a philosophical discussion in that city, and maybe rereading the lives of the five characters in the novel.

The book’s label as a philosophical novel makes reading it quite a challenge. Not that it is as hard to read as, say Tropic of Cancer, but you have to at least prepare yourself for possible mental wrangling. Like Nietzsche’s concepts. They never fail to make me a tad uncomfortable, although I only have bare ideas on his writings. They are presented here, but one does not need a degree in philosophy. One only needs an open mind.

Nietzsche says, loosely, that history will keep repeating itself. Kundera proposes something not completely opposite. He says that people can only live once. Kundera associates Nietzsche’s concept with weight, and his own with lightness. To know more about it, you better read the opening chapter. I fear I can never explain it to you without plagiarizing, and I believe this is a critical point that the reader has to find out for himself.

And so, throughout the novel, the lightness versus weight thing is examined. I think this can never be resolved because I think neither of the two is the negative one, although Kundera says that heaviness is the negative part of the pair.

Really now, consider a purse filled with coins. Or a heart measured by virtues. We would want both to be heavy, right? And how about movement? We would like to be light to move faster and more freely, right? So it is hard to make a choice between the two.

Disregarding this, the novel itself is a wonder. We are taken on a rollercoaster ride with the entangled relationships of the two couple. Each character is well-formed so you root for all of them. I don’t think any of them is the antagonist.

There are also motifs all over, and yes, one of them is the bowler hat. So what is so important in this bowler hat? What does it stand for? Why is it worn by a woman? Why does it float in some book covers?

And why do I want one for myself after reading the novel?

Final Notes

Tereza, one of the characters, fell in love with Tomas because she saw him reading a book in a café. What a lovely idea! Personally, I try to peek at the title of the book that a stranger is reading.

I usually see readers on a train, which is quite weird because I should see more in coffee shops. But I don’t go to coffee shops usually. Anyway, one train passenger, despite the densely packed car and despite his lack of seat, whipped out a book from his messenger bag. I took a glance. The book was black. I stared. The cover was stare. I twisted my neck to catch the title. The book was wide open then. I recognized the font. It looks like… Cormac McCarthy’s The Road! I waited for confirmation.

I was right! I looked from book to face. The man is handsome, a little Chinesey, and maybe in his mid-thirties. What a lovely idea of me striking a conversation with him! But it occurred to me that I don’t like being disturbed when I’m reading.

So I let him enjoy his book while I secretly imprint his face on my mind. I don’t remember how he looks like now. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
By a Czech author, this book belongs to the handful that I hope to read again. I might go and create a "shelf" in honor of this book: Shit I could (and maybe did) read twice.

Which reminds me. Kundera gives a very good philosophical discussion about shit. Seriously, he covers a lot in this book.

The only hitch I see is the writing perspective. The book is written from a somewhat omniscient third person, a self-proclaimed author. As a reader, you don't really know if the narrator is making up a story (aka he is the author) or retelling something he experienced. I swallowed my unease but accepting the narrator as part of the mystery of the novel.

All this mystery, plus the meat of the novel, makes a good read. A "thinker". ( )
  konrad.katie | Apr 24, 2014 |
This book is on the 1001 Books challenge list, so I read it. Now, the story of Tomas & Tereza is the central story, with the satellite characters Sabina(one of Tomas' mistresses), & Franz(one of Sabina's other lovers) also having storylines of their own. This rather tangled web of love is interspersed with the author's own musings on philosophy as it pertains to himself & his characters. It gave the characters a bit more depth, but I could have done without so MUCH of it....all in all, not a bad read, if you don't mind the divergence off on the musings... ( )
1 vote Lisa.Johnson.James | Apr 17, 2014 |
I expected this book to blow me away, but it didn't. It was interesting enough, and the author certainly takes on some immense themes: love, sex, and fidelity; Communism; war; art and its purpose; religion; and life's purpose.

Tomas and Tereza meet and fall in love suddenly. Tomas has been a habitual womanizer and is conflicted and puzzled by this newfound emotional bond, though his love for Tereza does not prevent him from continuing to have sex with any other woman who crosses his path. Sabina, one of his mistresses, seems to be in love with him too but is not willing or able to commit, even if Tomas were free. Franz, who falls in love with Sabina after they start an affair, searches for great meaning in a mundane life.

I think one of the best points the author makes is the fact of vastly different interpretations different individuals can have for the same events, places, or symbols. He even has a section in which he defines certain things from the points of view of Sabina and Franz, and we can see how one's upbringing and world view can slant the meaning of even the most commonplace thing.

Kundera seems to believe that the soul and the body can operate nearly independently of one another, that it is entirely possible to be emotionally committed to one person while having no physical/sexual fidelity. I can see that is a possibility and an explanation for humankind's tendency to have "meaningless" affairs, but still had difficulty accepting the premise. I wanted to throttle all these promiscuous people!

The entire story occurs with the backdrop of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, and the characters must deal with political unrest, questions of civic duty and loyalty, and fear of government reprisal in addition to their romantic dramas.

The book is thought provoking and reasonably engrossing, but I found it bleak and a bit disjointed. I did not find myself attracted to or sympathetic to any of the characters. Not my best read of the year, but not a waste of time either :) ( )
1 vote glade1 | Feb 24, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
This is a book to bring home how parochial and inward looking most fiction written in the English language is. There is no possible way that The Unbearable Lightness Of Being could have been written by a British or US author, or indeed any other anglophile. The mind set, the life experiences and especially the history it is written from are all too different. While the thrust of this book is by no means the same, I was reminded by its sensibility of the work of Bohumil Hrabal – not surprisingly also a Czech author.

The book is unusual in another sense – it breaks most of the rules that aspiring writers are advised to adhere to. A lot of the action is told to us rather than shown, Kundera addresses the reader directly, inserts his opinions into the narrative, tells us his interpretations of the characters. He also messes with chronology (admittedly not a major drawback, if one at all) and parenthetically gives us important information about some characters in sections which ostensibly deal with others. In parts, especially in the author’s musings on kitsch as the denial of the existence of crap - in all its senses - in the world, it reads as a treatise rather than an exploration of the human condition. That is, at times it is not fiction at all.

Kundera is highly regarded, so is this the essence of high art in fiction? That, as well as dealing with “important” subjects - or perhaps being considered to be circumscribed yet still endeavouring to tell truth to power (whatever truth may be) - the author should step beyond the bounds of narrative; of story?

The problem with such an approach is that it tends to undermine suspension of disbelief. The characters become too obviously constructs; the reader is in danger of losing sympathy, or empathy, with them; or indeed to care. It is a fine line to tread.

Where The Unbearable Lightness Of Being is not unusual is in its treatment of those novelistic eternals love, sex and death. Indeed at times it seems to be fixated on sex.

While the exigencies of living in a totalitarian state do colour the narrative, the treatment is matter of fact, oblique, almost incidental. The choices the characters make merely fall within the constraints of such a system. It is true, however, that something similar could be said for characters in any milieu. There are constraints on us all.

What I did find disappointing was that rather than finish, the book just seemed to stop. While the fates of the characters Kundera leaves us with are already known, this hardly seemed fair. "Leave them wanting more" may be an old showbiz adage but in the context of a one-off novel might be thought to be a failing.
added by jackdeighton | editA Son Of The Rock, Jack Deighton (Jan 17, 2011)
The world, and particularly that part of the world we used to call, with fine carelessness, eastern Europe, has changed profoundly since 1984, but Kundera's novel seems as relevant now as it did when it was first published. Relevance, however, is nothing compared with that sense of felt life which the truly great novelists communicate.
The mind Mr. Kundera puts on display is truly formidable, and the subject of its concern is substantively alarming.
Moments of Olympian distance, in which the author shows his mortals ignorantly creeping toward oblivion, alternate with passages of stirring intimacy, with the novelist playing cheerleader, urging victories for everyone.
added by Shortride | editTime, Paul Gray (Apr 16, 1984)
''The Unbearable Lightness of Being'' is a fairly straightforward inquiry into the intertwined fates of two pairs of lovers. The fact that it aspires to be a more conventional novel accounts for both its virtues and its flaws. If ''Lightness'' demonstrates a new capacity, on Mr. Kundera's part, to create sympathetic characters and sustain a lyrical story, the increased formality of its narrative design also tends to throw a harsher light on his penchant for philosophical digression.

» Add other authors (75 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kundera, Milanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Heim, Michael HenryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oliver, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roth, SusannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Siraste, KirstiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zgustová, MonikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Шульгина, НинаTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
La idea del eterno retorno es misteriosa y con ella Nietzsche dejó perplejo a los demás filósofos...
The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum! What does this mad myth signify?
Die Ewige Wiederkehr ist ein geheimnisvoller Gedanke, und Nietzsche hat damit manchen Philosophen in Verlegenheit gebracht: alles wird sich irgendwann so wiederholen, wie man es schon einmal erlebt hat, und auch diese Wiederholung wird sich unendlich wiederholen!
When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.
Tomas did not realize at the time that metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love.
...vertigo is something other than the fear of falling.  It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts us and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.
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Original title: Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060932139, Paperback)

A young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing; one of his mistresses and her humbly faithful lover—these are the two couples whose story is told in this masterful novel. In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and by fortuitous events, a world in which everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence, we feel "the unbearable lightness of being" not only as the consequence of our pristine actions but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:16 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Interweaves story and dream, past and present, and philosophy and poetry in the sardonic and erotic tale of two couples--Tomas and Teresa, and Sabina and her Swiss lover, Gerhart.

(summary from another edition)

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