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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)

by Milan Kundera

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
22,712273172 (4)3 / 410
When The Unbearable Lightness of Being was first published in English, it was named one of the best books of 1984 by the New York Times Book Review. It went on to win the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction and quickly became an international bestseller. Twenty years later, the novel has established itself as a modern classic. To commemorate the anniversary of its first English-language publication, HarperCollins is proud to offer a special hardcover edition. 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. Controlled by day, Tereza's jealousy awakens by night, transformed into ineffably sad death-dreams, while Tomas, a successful surgeon, alternates loving devotion to the dependent Tereza with the ardent pursuit of other women. Sabina, an independent, free-spirited artist, lives her life as a series of betrayals -- of parents, husband, country, love itself -- whereas her lover, the intellectual Franz, loses all because of his earnest goodness and fidelity. 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, says the novelist, "the unbearable lightness of being" -- not only as the consequence of our private acts but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine. This magnificent novel encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, and embraces, it seems, all aspects of human existence. It juxtaposes geographically distant places (Prague, Geneva, Paris, Thailand, the United States, a forlorn Bohemian village); brilliant and playful reflections (on "eternal return," on kitsch, on man and animals -- Tomas and Tereza have a beloved doe named Karenin); and a variety of styles (from the farcical to the elegiac) to take its place as perhaps the major achievement of one of the world's truly great writers.… (more)
  1. 30
    The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (Eustrabirbeonne)
  2. 20
    Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar (olonec)
    olonec: I'd call this one The Unbearable Heaviness of Being
  3. 21
    Sophie's Choice by William Styron (rretzler)
  4. 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.
  5. 11
    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.
  6. 00
    Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes
  7. 00
    Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind (sturlington)
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English (223)  Spanish (15)  French (9)  Italian (7)  Dutch (7)  German (2)  Arabic (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Hebrew (1)  Hungarian (1)  Catalan (1)  Portuguese (1)  Romanian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (272)
Showing 1-5 of 223 (next | show all)
No words left to describe how great this is ❤️ ( )
  Louisasbookclub | Jun 30, 2024 |
Masterpiece ( )
  jduchek | Jun 8, 2024 |
Ist es wirklich die unerträgliche Leichtigkeit des Seins unter der wir Menschen leiden? Oder ist es die erträgliche Schwere, die mal leichter und mal schwerer wird, welche wir in uns tragen? Für jeden von uns ist die Antwort anders. Mal fühlen wir uns federleicht, mal drohen wir zu ersticken unter der Last der Welt.
Kundera nimmt uns mit auf eine Reise durch die Gefühlswelten seiner Figuren, die so unterschiedlich wie gleich sind, und man davon ausgehen kann, dass sie alle nur eine Person darstellen. ( )
  RoXXieSiXX | May 20, 2024 |
It's a 4.5 at the moment... I'm going to read the reviews from my Goodreads friends and I suspect is going to move to a 5.
I wasn't expecting so much philosophy in this book. I think I liked it. ( )
  SergioRuiz | Apr 30, 2024 |
Kako mi komunistička Češka še'setosme nije ni malo egzotična, a ostatak knjige se svodi na kvazifilozofiranje i seks likova koji kao da su sastavljeni od koncentrovanog ega, ova knjiga me nije naročito oduševila... ( )
  p.vasic | Jan 2, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 223 (next | show all)
35 livres cultes à lire au moins une fois dans sa vie
Quels sont les romans qu'il faut avoir lu absolument ? Un livre culte qui transcende, fait réfléchir, frissonner, rire ou pleurer… La littérature est indéniablement créatrice d’émotions. Si vous êtes adeptes des classiques, ces titres devraient vous plaire.
De temps en temps, il n'y a vraiment rien de mieux que de se poser devant un bon bouquin, et d'oublier un instant le monde réel. Mais si vous êtes une grosse lectrice ou un gros lecteur, et que vous avez épuisé le stock de votre bibliothèque personnelle, laissez-vous tenter par ces quelques classiques de la littérature.
 
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)
 
1984
Milan Kundera
L'insoutenable légèreté de l'être
traduit du tchèque par F. Kérel, Gallimard
«Cette sinueuse chute vers la mort, cette lente destruction mutuelle de deux êtres qui s'aiment sera aussi pour chacun d'eux [...] la récupération d'une certaine paix intérieure.» (Lire, février 1984)
 
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.
 

» Add other authors (31 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
Valenzuela, Fernando deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zgustová, MonikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Шульгина, НинаTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Dedication
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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?
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

When The Unbearable Lightness of Being was first published in English, it was named one of the best books of 1984 by the New York Times Book Review. It went on to win the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction and quickly became an international bestseller. Twenty years later, the novel has established itself as a modern classic. To commemorate the anniversary of its first English-language publication, HarperCollins is proud to offer a special hardcover edition. 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. Controlled by day, Tereza's jealousy awakens by night, transformed into ineffably sad death-dreams, while Tomas, a successful surgeon, alternates loving devotion to the dependent Tereza with the ardent pursuit of other women. Sabina, an independent, free-spirited artist, lives her life as a series of betrayals -- of parents, husband, country, love itself -- whereas her lover, the intellectual Franz, loses all because of his earnest goodness and fidelity. 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, says the novelist, "the unbearable lightness of being" -- not only as the consequence of our private acts but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine. This magnificent novel encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, and embraces, it seems, all aspects of human existence. It juxtaposes geographically distant places (Prague, Geneva, Paris, Thailand, the United States, a forlorn Bohemian village); brilliant and playful reflections (on "eternal return," on kitsch, on man and animals -- Tomas and Tereza have a beloved doe named Karenin); and a variety of styles (from the farcical to the elegiac) to take its place as perhaps the major achievement of one of the world's truly great writers.

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Haiku summary
Tomas likes women
Teresa and Sabina
How does kitsch fit in?
(DarrylLundy)

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