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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)

by Milan Kundera

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
21,577263164 (4)3 / 395
Interweaves story and dream, past and present, and philosophy and poetry in a sardonic and erotic tale of two couples--Tomas and Teresa, and Sabina and her Swiss lover, Gerhart.
  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
    Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind (sturlington)
  5. 00
    Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes
  6. 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.
  7. 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 213 (next | show all)
(30) Every year around this time I re-read a book from the past. This is a novel I read long ago in college; during an English class. I may have read it an additional time in close proximity. I had always considered it profound and an absolute favorite. This is what I said when I tried to review it as an older adult for my LT collection in 2006:

"I absolutely loved this book when I read it for a college English class. Redefined how I felt about life and love. I was a deep thinker then -- now my brain craves plot and action -- I wonder how I would feel about a re-read. Still have to give it 5 stars though."

So upon a re-read - I do need to downgrade it to a generous 4 stars. At times it felt quite pretentious and just a disjointed series of antidotes about unreal characters created to illustrate the author's various philosophical ruminations. Many of them centered around Communism as well as romantic love. The main characters are Tomas and Tereza, a young Czech couple who meet and fall in love around the Russian occupation of the country and the mandated shift to totalitarianism. Tomas is a consummate womanizer despite his love for Tereza (Ugh, he made me sick - especially his time as a window-washer) and Tereza in an insecure photographer. The book tries to figure out whether one should lean into responsibility, steadfastness, principled living no matter how tedious (the weight) or just betray everyone and everything for the very joie de vive (the lightness)? Which is good and which is bad? And does it really matter since you can never go back and see how the other path would have played out?

The best most redeeming part and the part that I remembered all these years later is Karenin, the couple's dog. For a dog - time is a circle - the same things happen over and over again and this is blissful. The linearity of man's clock is what makes our lives unbearably heavy (or is that unbearably light) The love one has for a faithful dog is perfect. Amen to that. That always stuck with me. The rest ... meh.

4 stars, but ..probably one bonus star, for nostalgia alone. This book meant a great deal to me when I was younger, but it seems indulgent and rather silly in many ways to me now. I just wanted to knock all the characters heads together. Snap out of it you fools - stop navel-gazing. ( )
  jhowell | Jun 5, 2023 |
I enjoyed reading this but was also frustrated with the author trying to place meaning on everything - too much of something turns into nothing, and the "meaningfulness" became contradictory to me. ( )
  Kimberlyhi | Apr 15, 2023 |
What a strange book. I'm surprised it somehow "broke out" and became as well read as it has. It's certainly original. It really combines philosophy with a novel, and I'm never too excited about a novel that feels it needs to "spell out" the philosophy that supposedly is inherent in the storytelling. Nonetheless, it was readable, and I actually enjoyed (and often agreed with) the philosophical musings enough that I was able to appreciate the book on the whole.

I'm super anxious to look at Sparknotes' analysis now that I've finished the story. I feel like there were major philosophical points that I strongly agreed with, but I'm not sure whether my interpretations are on the money. Looking forward to finding out . . .

The novel itself is primarily about a relationship between a surgeon, Tomas, and his one true love, Tereza. Tomas is a womanizer, and the story also envelops his lover, Sabina, as well as Tomas' and Tereza's dog, Karenin. The story jumps around in time and has dream sequences, so it's not the easiest to follow, but it does have some very heartfelt moments throughout. As an author, I'd characterize Kundera as insightful, but he seems to write in order to show how insightful he is as opposed to with the reader in mind.

All in all, I am glad I read it and look forward to reading more analysis and discussing it with my book club. But I probably wouldn't go around recommending it except to people who really like authors who play with structure and who don't mind non-linear stories with "lessons". A narrow group of readers at best. ( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
  archivomorero | Feb 13, 2023 |
  archivomorero | Nov 9, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 213 (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)
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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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?
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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Interweaves story and dream, past and present, and philosophy and poetry in a sardonic and erotic tale of two couples--Tomas and Teresa, and Sabina and her Swiss lover, Gerhart.

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Tomas likes women
Teresa and Sabina
How does kitsch fit in?

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