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

by Milan Kundera

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
15,621166116 (4.04)1 / 278
Member:sturlington
Title:The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Authors:Milan Kundera
Info:
Collections:Given away or lost
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Literary fiction--classics, 1980s, SFF--slipstream

Work details

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1984)

  1. 30
    The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa (Eustrabirbeonne)
  2. 00
    In praise of older women: the amorous recollections of Andràs Vajda 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.
  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. 00
    Sophie's Choice by William Styron (rretzler)
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English (135)  Spanish (9)  Dutch (6)  French (6)  Portuguese (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Finnish (1)  Romanian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Hungarian (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (166)
Showing 1-5 of 135 (next | show all)
“In the realm of kitsch, the dictatorship of the heart reigns supreme” (p. 250).

Milan Kundera has long been one of my favorite contemporary writers. And although The Unbearable Lightness of Being is generally considered to be his best work, I now have to confess that I thought the film with Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche was actually better than the book. The casting for that 1988 film was simply perfect – as was the cinematography.


That said, I still very much appreciate Kundera’s whole discussion of kitsch. That I know of, no one’s done it better – or maybe even done it at all.


In first reading the quote I’ve chosen to start this review with, I was reminded of Oscar Wilde’s quote about poetry: "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic."


It’s impossible to know anything about Kundera’s style, given that I had to make do with what I suspect to have been an excellent translation by Michael Henry Heim. What I can say is that Heim’s translation, by its lucidity and flow, suggests to me that Kundera’s Czech is more than competent.


Perhaps as interesting as the story itself are some of Kundera’s observations – and I’ll let the following rather lengthy one (in which he describes the role of the writer) suffice to fill out my review: “As I have pointed out before, characters are not born like people, of woman; they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about.


“But isn’t it true that an author can write only about himself?


“Starting impotently across a courtyard, at a loss for what to do; hearing the pertinacious rumbling of one’s own stomach during a moment of love; betraying, yet lacking the will to abandon the glamorous path of betrayal; raising one’s fist with the crowds in the Grand March; displaying one’s wit before hidden microphones – I have known all these situations, I have experienced them myself, yet none of them has given rise to the person my curriculum vitae and I represent. The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented. It is that crossed border (the border beyond which my own ‘I’ ends) which attracts me most. For beyond that border begins the secret the novel asks about. The novel is not the author’s confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become” (p. 221).


RRB
07/10/14
Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
Als Liebesgeschichte wird dieses Buch beschrieben, es gilt das glaubhafteste Liebespaar der modernen Literatur zu entdecken - doch um ehrlich zu sein, empfand ich genau das viel eher als Randgeschichte. Teresa und Tomas sind die Hauptfiguren in diesem Roman und man folgt ihrer zeitweise recht schwierigen Beziehung durch die Zeit. Tomas ist ein notorischer Fremdgänger trotz seiner Liebe zu Teresa, und daran ändert sich auch nichts, als sie die Tschechei verlassen und nach Zürich ziehen. Tomas trifft dort seine 'alte' Freundin Sabina wieder und sie und ihr späterer Geliebter Franz sind das zweite Liebespaar, von dem erzählt wird. All dies wie auch die Rückkehr von Teresa und Tomas nach Prag ereignen sich vor dem Hintergrund des Einmarsches der sowjetischen Truppen in die Tschechei.
Und genau dies ist das eigentlich Thema des Buches: Das Verhalten der Menschen zueinander und sich selbst gegenüber unter den erdrückenden Bedingungen des Lebens in einer Diktatur. Wie verändern sich die Menschen, Werte, Ideale? Kundera wechselt dazu in seinem Buch zwischen einer Art Essay, in dem verschiedene Überlegungen dargestellt werden und der 'normalen' Erzählform, mit der die Geschichten der Protagonisten wiedergegeben werden. Leider nicht chronologisch, sondern immer wieder gibt es Zeitsprünge, so dass es mir nicht gelang, den Figuren wirklich nahe zu kommen. Alles in allem hatte ich häufiger den Eindruck, eine politisch-sozial-philosophisch-psychologische Abhandlung zu lesen als einen Roman. Doch vielleicht ist dieses Buch einfach auch ein Kind seiner Zeit. Vor knapp 30 Jahren waren solche Gedanken vermutlich recht neu und die beschriebenen gesellschaftlichen Situationen hochaktuell und brisant, während sie heute weit entfernt erscheinen.
Wer also eine Liebesgeschichte zum Schmökern sucht, sollte sich eine andere Lektüre wählen. ( )
  Xirxe | Dec 2, 2014 |
It seems that opinions of this book are very divided, which is understandable, but I was surprised by the sheer vitriol people have expressed over it. I found Kundera's wordplay effective, and loved his philosophical narrative diversions about cows and everything else. Tomas (and pretty much everybody else, too) is a very flawed character, but if he wasn't the book wouldn't have very much depth. People's flaws seem to be a center point of the argument that Kundera is putting forth about the cacophonous but also wondrous experience of human life. I found the sheer lyrical power of this book to humanize if not altogether redeem the characters. There not perfect nor conventional, but who is, really? ( )
  poetontheone | Nov 10, 2014 |
I had to read this for a class and I fell in love with it. This book is beautifully written and makes you think about life in such a different way. ( )
  Jashrekn | Sep 24, 2014 |
I came very close to giving up on this book. Despite having read Kundera before and loved him, despite this book being on the bookslut 100, and fitting at least two categories on my book bingo challenge. This book shifts between the point of view of the author and four of the main characters. The first character, Tomas, I found nearly unbearable. Burned by divorce, Tomas develops a set of rules for "erotic friendships," a system that works for him until he falls in love with Tereza. His self-pitying attitude about his inability to give up these affairs despite their effects on Tereza, who he supposedly loves, made me want to hold his face under water. But then the point of view shifts to Tereza (who is also not perfect, but at least sympathetic), and it kept me from giving up.

The unbearable jerkness of Tomas aside, there was so much to this book that was wonderful. In particular, the way our personal metaphors shape our lives -- can make two people incompatible, or can make someone fall in love. If you want to just read a story, this book is not for you. If you want to think about the hows and whys of stories, how we are shaped by our past, our loves, the political situation of our surroundings in both predictable and unexpected ways, of both the importance and the triviality of these stories, then I don't know how you could not fall under the spell of this book.

I also was intrigued by the collisions between leftist-anarchism and the communist police-state, the way people were betrayed by a system they expected to make real their ideals, and how they made sense of that betrayal.

In short, Tomas bothered me enough that I couldn't give this book the full 5 stars most of my friends have, but I still found it profoundly interesting. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 135 (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 (16 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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Dedication
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!
Quotations
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)

» see all 10 descriptions

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