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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (original 1984; edition 1999)
by Milan Kundera
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1984)
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Crude and complex. A reflection on the insatiability of the human spirit and its worldly quest of self.
This book tackles the meaning of life by exploring the concepts of lightness and weight. Set in 1968, coinciding with the period of history known as Prague Spring, the four primary characters (and a dog) represent these concepts through the choices they make. Tomáš is a surgeon who represents lightness in his amorous adventures with numerous women. Tereza, his wife, represents weight in her loyalty and desire for stability.
This book is a philosophical contemplation of love, fidelity, politics, and destiny. I not the best person to articulate all the philosophical nuances in this book. I imagine many theses have been written on it. I read it in small doses and looked forward to picking it up each time. It certainly engages the brain.
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.
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.
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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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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813 — Literature English (North America) American fiction
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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. ( )