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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)

by Milan Kundera

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
19,868232146 (4.01)2 / 368
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. 10
    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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English (188)  Spanish (13)  French (9)  Dutch (6)  Italian (4)  German (2)  Portuguese (1)  Swedish (1)  Romanian (1)  Catalan (1)  Danish (1)  Arabic (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Hebrew (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (231)
Showing 1-5 of 188 (next | show all)
A tumescent novel of ideas and observations. ( )
  chrisvia | Apr 29, 2021 |
Sometimes you come across a book of which you know after a few chapters already that it's simply bound to be 5-star story. [b:The Unbearable Lightness of Being|9717|The Unbearable Lightness of Being|Milan Kundera|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1265401884s/9717.jpg|4489585] is a book like that.

The first chapters in fact struck me so hard I had to reread them and put down the book after every few pages to process what I had just read. Kundera finds such profound truth in such tense prose that it's almost too good to be true.

Be prepared for some depressing philosophy intertwined with comical insights against the a powerful backdrop of the Russian invasion of the Czech Republic in the sixties.

In between his vision on life, the author presents you with a nice little love story with more respect for exemplifying impact than chronology. This makes the characters really come alive and gives great insight in their psychology.

This is definitely a book that makes it on my -- very short -- to-read-again list.

Recommended to all! ( )
  bbbart | Dec 27, 2020 |
I loved the beautiful metaphors, like the accretion of meanings of musical motifs used to compose the score of life. The shared interpretations of these motifs create the links between people. The whole novel is very thoughtful and almost unreal whilst at the same time firmly planted in the historical backdrop showing the tragedy and horror of Russian occupation of Eastern Europe. I was surprised I'm still upset about it despite it ending over two decades ago. I wonder if the countries remaining under Russian influence still suffer through this kind of misery depicted in the book. ( )
  TeaTimeCoder | Dec 23, 2020 |
Review 2019-12-21:
I picked this book up again, four and a half years later, while looking for a novel I thought might provide some insight into human heartache. It's a novel about the intersecting sex lives of ~6 people (and a dog, but there is no sex on that front!), set against a backdrop of the Soviet occupation of Czech. It's an amazing read, told by multiple narrators, where seemingly irrelevant details in one story become central themes of another. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a contemporary classic, and anyone who hasn't read it is doing themselves a great disservice.

Review 2015-06-14:
I don't know what to say about this book. I loved it, but I'm not sure why, nor really what I just finished reading. But yeah, I really liked it. ( )
  isovector | Dec 13, 2020 |
There are several ways you can look at this novel. If fact, if you look at different reviews, you might wonder if these people read the same book. They did, but novel operates on several different levels, and I think different readers are going to be drawn to different aspects of the novel.

For me, this is a story about relationships and the combinations of commitment, independence and freedom of which those relationships consist. In our lives outside this novel, we find that different people think happiness is related to having these qualities in various measures, and so do the characters in the novel. Tomas, the womanizer, wants casual sexual relationships with no ties, but then discovers he does want a more permanent relationship but does not want it to interfere with the casual relationships. Tereza wants permanence and commitment and wants Tomas to want those things too. Sabina wants sex and love, as long as there is no long-term obligation or commitment. Franz thinks he has what he wants with Sabina, only to discover he is happier with one of his students. It is like real life. Some people think they want one thing only to learn that they really want something different. Some people just change, wanting first one thing and then evolving to want something different. Some people think they want one thing only to learn when it is too late that maybe they wanted something else. It is messy. Perhaps only Karenin, Tereza’s dog, has it all figured out. As we are told in the novel, you can only live life forward; you can only pursue a single path at a time. You can’t explore multiple options simultaneously and choose among them. The different types of relationships, the conflicting values, the varying desires, the degree to which each party recognized his or her motivations, the degree to which the individuals did or did not realize some degree of happiness—it is all a bit mesmerizing.

There is much more to this novel than I am describing, but what I enjoyed the most was watching the various characters try to determine what they wanted from life, what they wanted from their partner or lover, what they thought would make them happy. They succeeded to varying degrees. Here, Tomas, is telling Tereza part of the reason why he is happier than in the past:

Missions are stupid, Tereza. I have no mission. No one has. And it is a terrific relief to realize you are free, free of all missions. ( )
  afkendrick | Oct 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 188 (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 (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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Wikipedia in English (2)

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.

No library descriptions found.

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

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