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The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan…

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

by Milan Kundera

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
16,525189107 (4.03)2 / 321
Title:The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Authors:Milan Kundera
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Czech Republic, Prague, 20th century, read in 1990s

Work details

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1984)

  1. 30
    The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa (Eustrabirbeonne)
  2. 20
    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.
  4. 01
    In Praise of Older Women by Stephen Vizinczey (soylentgreen23)
    soylentgreen23: The perfect companion piece, since it deals with a lot of sex, women, affairs, and surviving in Communist Eastern Europe.

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English (153)  Spanish (11)  Dutch (7)  French (7)  German (2)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Romanian (1)  Catalan (1)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Hebrew (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (189)
Showing 1-5 of 153 (next | show all)
I really liked this book. I can't say it was an absolute love but it's one I could see myself revisiting because there were certainly things I loved about it. For instance, I'm a background junkie (most of the time). I love when authors really get into the nitty gritty of their characters and pull out different things for us to see and learn about them as individuals and how they react to their surroundings, circumstances, and others. I think authors can dive into these depths in one of two ways: one, they are writing a character that they can personally identify with and, as such, the character becomes a body of autobiographical nature, or two, the author has a grasp on psychology that may be fleshed out by innumerable perspectives. Sometimes you fall into a book that is guided by an author that is able to let bloom a combination of these two ways in such magnitude that you are able to be swept up in character psychology and the authors personal views so seamlessly that it becomes more of an experience to be had than a book you happened to pick up. Almost like setting a scalpel (to use Kundera's words) to the genius of Beethoven, Nietzsche, etc. to see what lies beneath, what propels their personal "es muss sein."

So, that's what I'd identify The Unbearable Lightness of Being as. An experience that should be had for a large majority of the populace. In delving into what has brought his characters into being and what forces power their worlds and interactions, Kundera creates a sense of empathy and understanding that isn't necessarily inherent in the grand scheme of things. While I don't agree with each point, I certainly felt it broadening the brushstrokes I'd previously painted my opinions with. I also think it will continue to do so the more I think about it or come back to it. ( )
  lamotamant | Jun 23, 2016 |
This book has the power of evoking some really overwhelming imagery and emotions. That's about as much I can come up with right now. ( )
  Adarsh_Nargundkar | Jun 12, 2016 |
Tomáš - The story's protagonist: a Czech surgeon and intellectual. Tomáš is a light-hearted womanizer who lives for his work. He considers sex and love to be discrete entities: he copulates with many women but loves only his wife, Tereza. He sees no contradiction between these two activities. He explains womanizing as an imperative to explore the idiosyncrasies of people (women, in this case) only expressed during sex. At first he views his wife as a burden he is obligated to take care of, but this changes when he abandons his twin obsessions of work and womanizing and moves to the country with Tereza. There, he communicates with his son after the occurrences consequence of a letter, likening the Czech Communists to Oedipus, he published in a magazine. Later, Simon tells Sabina that Tomáš and Tereza died in a car crash; his epitaph was: He wanted the Kingdom of God on Earth.
Tereza - Young wife of Tomáš. A gentle, intellectual photographer, she delves into dangerous and dissident photojournalism during the Soviet occupation of Prague. Tereza does not condemn Tomáš for his infidelities, and instead characterizes herself as weaker than he is. She is mostly defined by the division she places between soul and body: because of her mother's flagrant embrace of all the body's grotesque functions, Tereza views her body as disgusting and shameful. Throughout the book she expresses a fear of simply being another body in Tomáš's array of women. Once they go live in the country, she devotes herself to taking care of cattle and reading. During this time she becomes fond of animals, reaching the conclusion that they were the last link to the paradise abandoned by Adam and Eve, and becomes alienated from other humans. She dies with Tomáš in the car accident.
Sabina - Tomáš's favorite mistress and closest friend. Sabina lives her life as an extreme example of lightness, finding profound satisfaction in the act of betrayal. She declares war on kitsch, and struggles against the constraints imposed by her puritan ancestry and the Russian Socialists. This struggle is shown through her paintings. She occasionally expresses excitement at humiliation, shown through the use of her grandfather's bowler hat, a symbol that is born during one sexual encounter between her and Tomáš, and eventually changes meaning and becomes a relic of the past. After the death of Tomáš, she begins to correspond with Simon while living under the roof of some older Americans, who admire her artistic skill. She expresses her desire to be cremated and thrown to the winds after death - the last symbol of eternal lightness.
Franz - Sabina's lover. A Geneva professor and idealist. Franz falls in love with Sabina, whom he (erroneously) considers a liberal and romantically tragic Czech dissident. Sabina considers both of those identities kitsch. He is a kind and compassionate man. As one of the dreamers of the novel, he bases his actions on loyalty to the memories of his mother and of Sabina, whose eyes he always feels. His life revolves completely around books and academia, so that he seeks lightness and ecstasy by participating in marches and protests, the last of which is a march in Thailand to the Cambodian border. While in Bangkok, after the march, he is mortally wounded during a mugging. Ironically, he always sought to escape the kitsch of his wife, Marie-Claude, but dies in her presence, so that Marie-Claude claims he always loved her. The inscription on his grave was: "A return after long wanderings."
Karenin - The dog of Tomáš and Tereza. Although physically a female, the name given always alludes to masculinity, and is a reference to the husband of Anna in Anna Karenina. Karenin lives his life according to routine, and shows extreme dislike of change. Once the married couple moves to the country, Karenin becomes more content than ever, as he is able to enjoy more the attention of his owners. He also quickly befriends a pig named Mefisto. During this time Tomáš discovers that Karenin has cancer, and even after removing a tumor it is clear that Karenin is going to die. On his deathbed he unites Tereza and Tomáš through his "smile" at their attempts to improve his health. When he dies, Tereza expresses a wish to place an inscription over his grave: "Here lies Karenin. He gave birth to two rolls and a bee", after a dream she had shortly before his death.
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
I would give this one 1.5 stars, but only because I made it nearly half way through. This book was about Tomas and his wife Tereza, his mistress Sabina, and her lover Franz. It wasn't even a story, per se, but a lot (and I do mean a lot) of reflection and finding meaning in their lives, behaviors, and relationships. I enjoy a book with some introspection and a quest to find purpose and clarity in life, but this one was so over the top, it was too much for me. I found myself wanting to say something about a cigar just being a cigar, and sometimes an ugly pendant is just an ugly pendant. I found myself feeling like I was wasting my time and so I did not finish this one. Not recommended and not one I want to own. ( )
1 vote MahanaU | Feb 26, 2016 |
This was the second time I'd read this book. I'd forgotten that I'd
read it before. I talked to a couple of other people about it, and we
agreed that while it is very beautifully written, it does seem to be
strangely not extremely memorable. I'm not sure why. It feels somewhat
like a dream, and the details seem to slide away like those of a dream
as well.
This is mostly a story of a love triangle involving a Czech doctor,
Tomas, his wife Tereza, and one of Tomas' mistresses, Sabine. However,
it is also a book filled with Kundera's philosophical musings on the
nature and meaning of life - is every event and action an ephemeral,
one-time event, filled with "lightness" - or is the idea of "eternal
return" the one of value, where one believes that each event reoccurs
forever, set in stone, and filled with weight?
Personally, I feel that every event does only happen once, gone as
soon as acted - and that is precisely why our actions do have meaning;
they are unique. So I wasn't much for the philosophy, really.
However, I did really find the depiction of the Czech Republic in the
60s and 70s interesting, and thought it gave a fascinating insight
into what it was like to live in that time and place.
The characters are slightly abstract, but still appealing, in a way
that reminds me of the work of Anais Nin.
I would recommend the book, but don't feel that it is as significant a
work as its reputation might indicate. ( )
1 vote AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 153 (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 (56 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kundera, Milanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barbato, AntonioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
de Valenzuela, FernandoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heim, Michael HenryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oliver, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roth, SusannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Siraste, KirstiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
V., Fernando ValenzuelaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valenzuela, FernandoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valenzuela, Fernando deTranslatorsecondary 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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:30 -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)

» see all 10 descriptions

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