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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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16,106176110 (4.04)2 / 307
Title:The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Authors:Milan Kundera
Collections:Given away or lost
Tags:1980s, Czech Republic, magical realism, modern classics, Soviet Union, Prague, read in 1990s

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.
  4. 01
    El gust amarg de la cervesa 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 (141)  Spanish (12)  Dutch (7)  French (6)  German (2)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Catalan (1)  Romanian (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Danish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (176)
Showing 1-5 of 141 (next | show all)
A fantastic book. A terrific novel. A very smart, philosophical, metaphysical, intelligent, yet humorous in places, but always keen and aware novel and story of the lives it portrays. A great showing of how we live our lives, why we do, why we do the things we do to others, how we can and cannot choose to act to ourselves, to others, and the way in which we interact with others - especially those we love. Great characters (although I find myself more interested in Tomas/Tereza and Sabina rather than Franz) [and a great dog - Karenin; whose ending portion of the novel is possibly the best written of the novel] who come to life and you can relate to them through their treatments of each other. Ultimately it's a novel about how we hurt those we love and how we treat them - but most importantly how we treat ourselves - and thus by process how we treat others. Treating and interacting with others is a reflection upon how we treat and interact with ourself(ourselves), and the process blossoms from there out. The interactions between lovers comes down to their own abilities and disabilities and their own idiosyncrasies and psychologies and philosophies and how that all relates to their own character; and by how they perceive and receive themselves is how they receive and perceive their lovers - which ultimately is the defining characteristic of how we interact with others. There is 5 main characters to the novel (Tereza/Karenin/Tomas-Sabina-Franz) and they all correlate and intersect primarily through the infidelities of Tomas and Franz through Sabina. All five have basically a dance about their way through the world with Sabina being the link. We are given perspective on each character through that focal point; with Karenin's being dog-like and aloof yet possibly the most deep perspective of Tomas/Tereza possible.

All in all an extremely well written and well delivered novel that focuses so deeply on the highest-levels and the lowest-levels (the God/Shit chapters exceedingly puts this in perspective) and definitely highly recommended to anyone. ( )
  BenKline | Oct 1, 2015 |
I was so enthralled with Kundera’s "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" I moved right on to "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". Isn’t that the greatest compliment you can pay an author?

I have come to the conclusion that all Milan Kundera’s books leave the reader feeling unsettled, sad, introspective, and curious for more. "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is philosophically complex, touching on topics like the soul versus the body, love versus sex, fate versus circumstance, and rational communication versus absurd miscommunication. Kundera expounds on Nietzsche’s theory of “eternal return”- a human’s heaviest burden- and the Greek Philosopher Parmenides’ theory that lightness is positive and weight negative.

Kundera explains… “the heaviest of burdens is an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.”

The questions he poses, “What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

Kundera builds his plot around the love story of a couple from Czechoslovakia… Tomas and Tereza, one of Tomas’s old lovers Sabrina, and Sabrina’s new lover Franz. And along with all the other complexities of thought, Kundera adds a touch of politics, covering a period of time in the 1960s that included the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Russia and anti-American involvement in the Vietnam war including international anti-war protests in Cambodia.

"The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is a book of contrasts. Lightness versus heaviness. The lightness of conformity and heaviness of individuality. The lightness of non-commitment and the heaviness of physical and emotional attachment. Even Kundera’s writing illustrates contrast- simple and clear- yet poetic and profound. He plays with words, and phrases like the German phrase “es muss sein” and the slangy word “kitsch”, schooling the reader on interpretation and how it relates to real life situations. His books are the type that I set aside with the hopes of re-reading someday. Weighty. and absolutely wonderful. ( )
  LadyLo | Aug 24, 2015 |
Historically dated but reminiscent of the turmoil in Czechoslovakia. During my college days we had one young woman in our class who had witnessed the arrival of the Russians and was forced to leave. Conditions were intolerable. Kundera brings conflicting emotions and moral boundaries to light in this carefully crafted novel. ( )
  mcdenis | Aug 18, 2015 |
This is acclaimed as a modern classic. If being indecipherable makes it a classic, it is indeed a true classic. I almost gave up in the first 5 minutes of listening to this wit got all philosophical about opposites, light vs dark, etc and how one is clearly positive and the other negative. What abut lightness and heaviness? which is positive and which negative? At which point my brain was crawling from my ears like cream cheese. It then launches into a story, but I'm really not sure what to make of that either. It is not strictly chronological, in that you hear of the death of two characters, then spend a fair chunk of the rest of the book finding out what they've been up to, but not hearing of their death again. It was all very confusing.
It might have helped more had the characters been a bit more appealing, or sympathetic. But they weren't really. They were very wrapped up in themselves. And it doesn't even seem to make what it could of the setting, Prague before and after the takeover by the Russians.
I'm quite prepared to admit that this might not be the best book to listen to. I;m quite prepared to acct that there may well be layers of meaning that simply passed me by - not being of a philosophical nature and all that. So as a story, it leave a lot to be desired, as a classic it was hard work to understand, as a book t gets nothing more than an OK. There were some wonderful passages of writing and ideas, but as a whole it left me feeling that I'd missed something. ( )
  Helenliz | Jul 31, 2015 |
I hated this book at first because of the writer’s casual attitude toward love & sex, but then I saw the beauty of the relation between Tomas and Tereza, between Tomas and Sabine, and between Tereza and Sabine. And then I was deeply moved by the death of Tereza’s dog, and how compassionately Tomas handles it. A powerful novel that shows the opposites in a human being, both equally good, in stark contrast.
  CorinneT | Jul 31, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 141 (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 (57 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kundera, Milanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
de Valenzuela, FernandoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heim, Michael HenryTranslatorsecondary 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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