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The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel
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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.

Customer Reviews:

  • The unbearable pedantry and dull imagery
    After a few recommendations and overheard remarks from people saying how wonderful this book was, how true, etc, although the recommendations did not inspire, they could not be ignored. I flipped through the book at a local bookstore and read a little bit and cringed, put the book away and bought something else. Then, as I left I noticed a pretty girl sitting in front of the store, indian style on the sidewalk, near the end of a book and I asked her what she was reading. Immortality, she said, by Milan Kundera. It was very good, worthy of a reread. So, in the spirit of the times I decided that might be interpreted by some as a sign, I might as well read Kundera.

    Kundera begins the novel rather tediously, setting the tone for the next three hundred pages. He rather dryly and pedantically lays a mythological foundation to the novel, to which he constantly refers and elaborates. The "myth of eternal return", he begins discussing:

    "The myth of eternal return states that a life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing. We need take no more note of it than of a war between two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century, a war that altered nothing in the destiny of the world, even if a hundred thousand blacks perished in excrutiating torment."

    Then, he begins to invent, or derive notions of Lightness and Being from this myth, defining rather vaguely the duality of Lightness and weight, and their metaphysical interplay in the life of man. But this is not intended (I don't think) to be a sophmore's philosophy text on the meaning of love and the nature of life, a story then begins.

    There are two main, unremarkable love stories in this novel, that of Tomas and Tereza and Franz and Sabina, Sabina being the mutual link, having an affair with both Tomas and Franz at different points in the novel. The narration of the novel is done in the first person, but by no character in the book. The story is told by a rather pedantic man, full of ideas, eager to talk about them, filtering the lives of the characters through these cobweb concepts, centering around his universals of Lightness and Heaviness, and Body and Soul and 'the duality of Sex and Love.'

    There is little imagery in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Kundera is simply incapable of describing his characters. There is nearly no physical description at all and what little there is done clumsily, without depth. "She arrived the next evening, a handbag dangling from her shoulder, looking more elegant than before" is nearly the only physical description we have of Tereza. She's elegant. A novel is a universe, and the universe Kundera has created is full of "elegant", "tall" people, some that "wear glasses" and one has a "childish face." The book is done in black and white, with heavy contrast, little gray, lacking nearly any trace of color. We could be forgiven for thinking that Kundera was blind.

    What's left is a heap of ideas about "reality" and what the idea of Love is to these generic characters. The novel cannot even be said to be a case study of particularly extraordinarily love affairs, or singular characters. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a shallow story of a quartet of characters and how they stand in relation to the vaporous thoughts of a dull pedant....more info
  • Unforgettable!
    I have never read a book that affected me more than this one. The relative style in which Kundera writes had me highlighting passages throughout the entire book just because I could say, WOW! that's so me. The story takes you on a fascinating journey through life; a roller-coaster ride you never want to get off of. Passionate, witty, emotional all in one. I am truly affected and SOOOO touched by this book. READ IT, ITS A MUST!...more info
  • This book changed my life...
    ...or perhaps more appropriately, this book speaks to my life - describes my life - reflects my life. I believe, once in a lifetime, you come across something that so clearly mirrors your view of the world, but in a strange, beautiful, and unimaginable way.

    Taken as a story, it is a compelling tale of love, life and the struggles faced in Prague during the Russian uprising. But when taken on a deeper level, an "ur-level," this book speaks to one's view on oneself and their relationship to the eternal struggle of life.

    This is a book I have been reading every year for the last 15 years, and every reading brings about new thoughts, new ideas and new perspectives. Trust me - you will love this book....more info
  • Unbearable Lightness of Being?
    Kundera's _Unbearable Lightness of Being_ was one of those assigned novels that I was sure that I would not like the minute I picked it up. Fortunately I was mistaken and found the book quite enjoyable. It was probably the dog, Karenina, who has to be euthanized at the end as she's suffering from cancer. It was also helped by a reference to Nietzsche's mysterious and obscure doctrine of the eternal return in the opening chapter, and NOT beginning with some pretentious Victorian social occasion, as most tedious novels tend to begin. I also admired the protagonist Tomas' courage in standing up to Communist goons in his native Czechoslovakia, even though it cost him his career as one of Prague's top neurosurgeons, though not his excessive womanizing. The book also makes some interesting observations on the nature of political affiliations and the appeal militant left-wing politics have for academics that live otherwise boring lives. The novel is also much better than the film version....more info
  • Love, lust, revolution, repression, and philosophical digression
    Having seen (and disliked) the movie many years ago, I never thought of reading the book. However, I was pleasantly surprised! The rather cryptic title refers to the author's personal philosophy regarding relationships, which he explains in the book.

    The story begins in Communist Czechoslovaka prior to the famous 1968 Prague Spring introducing the reader to Tomas, the womanizing doctor, and his future doting wife, Tereza. Firmly determined to never remarry after a painful divorce, he ultimately decides to take Tereza under his protection. Of course, Tomas figures that's no reason to give up his many girlfriends. So, they continue, but Tereza is tormented by Tomas' continous infidelity. The author, Milan Kundera, also portrays his affairs from the side of one of his steadiest girlfriends, Sabina. Throughout the book, we trace the personal histories of these three characters from before the Prague Spring to their separate emigration to Switzerland and their return to Czechoslovakia (without Sabina). We also learn about boring Franz, Sabina's desperate lover.

    Like other Czech authors, Kundera's book starts off playfully, lustfully. But then it takes on an increasingly serious tone as the characters age and finally becomes almost painfully poignant at the end. The consequences of their earlier frivolousness come back to haunt them as the Communist authorities begin relentless persecuting them, ironically pushing them closer together emotionally than ever before.

    All in all I surprisingly enjoyed the book. Towards the end, however, the book wanders wildly. (Did Kundera have a page quota to fill?) I recommend this book to anyone interested in Czech authors or personal relationships....more info
  • Unbearable longing for more of Kundera!
    I don't understand how anyone failed to tell me about this book. I don't understand how I hadn't even heard of it until last month. I went to a book store by chance, not having planned on going in the first place. I walked down an aisle that I rarely browse, I saw a paperback book, the spine of which caught my eye - red and white stripes. For no reason whatsoever, I picked it up and started to read it.

    I am eternally grateful that chance inadvertently led me to this book; it is one of the best books I've ever read. I've browsed through a couple of reviews that declare it pretentious but really, pretension is basically unjustified vanity, undeserved acclaim. This book is quite an accomplishment, entirely worthy of self-indulgence, self-importance.

    I had to set it down a few times to catch my breath; some passages literally took my breath away, if only momentarily. Kundera has a way with words, his thoughts and philosophies beautifully expressed, and touching on an array of experiences. He utilizes language so amazingly well, conveys ideas so precisely. I have never walked away from a book with such overwhelming satisfaction. Because I am not Milan Kundera, I have no words that can fully encompass how gratifying it was to read every page. Eternal return has never seemed quite so poetic as it did while I read this book, and will never again seem so....more info
  • Unbearable longing for more of Kundera!
    I don't understand how anyone failed to tell me about this book. I don't understand how I hadn't even heard of it until last month. I went to a book store by chance, not having planned on going in the first place. I walked down an aisle that I rarely browse, I saw a paperback book, the spine of which caught my eye - red and white stripes. For no reason whatsoever, I picked it up and started to read it.

    I am eternally grateful that chance inadvertently led me to this book; it is one of the best books I've ever read. I've browsed through a couple of reviews that declare it pretentious but really, pretension is basically unjustified vanity, undeserved acclaim. This book is quite an accomplishment, entirely worthy of self-indulgence, self-importance.

    I had to set it down a few times to catch my breath; some passages literally took my breath away, if only momentarily. Kundera has a way with words, his thoughts and philosophies beautifully expressed, and touching on an array of experiences. He utilizes language so amazingly well, conveys ideas so precisely. I have never walked away from a book with such overwhelming satisfaction. Because I am not Milan Kundera, I have no words that can fully encompass how gratifying it was to read every page. Eternal return has never seemed quite so poetic as it did while I read this book, and will never again seem so....more info
  • Odd
    I had no idea what type of book this was, nor anything about the writing of Kundera when I purchased this book. I wish I had.

    The book chronicles different people's lives and journey's, but their lives are just a subtext to the writer's general philosophy on life, which is infused throughout. His philosphy is a little odd, and very VERY European. There is a tinge of melancholy that runs throughout his philosphy, and the very Un-American idea that things don't always work towards a greater good, or that things that happen don't necessarily have a point. (Did this book have a point?)

    Reading this book was like being flipped upside down a few times and not knowing where you will land. If you would like to read a good fiction novel, this is not it. I think this should be put under philosphy, rather than fiction....more info
  • Of Life, Love, and Music.
    What a magnificent piece of writing! Twenty years ago, I saw the movie and enjoyed it greatly. I remember a bittersweet love story set against the Russian invasion of Prague, an intense eroticism, and a haunting use of Janacek piano music. All these qualities are indeed found in the novel, but the movie is two-dimensional by comparison, able to do little more than hint at the richness of Kundera's thought, his unusual narrative structure, and his extraordinary use of the fourth dimension, time.

    This is indeed a musical book, though its inspiration seems to be the kaleidoscopic style of the late Beethoven quartets, which mingle profundity with earthy humor. It consists of a number of separate movements, all covering much the same material, but from many different points of view. The story as such is almost irrelevant; all that is important in it has been told well before the half-way point. It is like having conversations with a number of friends, catching up with the doings of mutual acquaintances, but also talking about philosophy, politics, sexuality, and religion. Like all good conversations, each discussion is both stimulating and reassuringly familiar.

    I don't know if this is conscious on Kundera's part, but he also seems to owe a strong debt to Voltaire's CANDIDE, in that the leading characters, after a life of sometimes violent political and erotic adventures, ultimately settle down to make their gardens grow. It makes for a touching ending, and a deeply satisfying one....more info
  • Unbearably True
    Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being is a light masterpiece, encapsulating the philosophy of a writer who happened to be Czech, happened to live under a repressive regime, and chose to make the best of his life, realizing the futility of wondering "what if."

    This is a book of ideas, though I cannot comment on its stylistic merit given my ignorance of Czech. It is not primarily a book of political protest. Rather, it is a philosophical flirtation with the possibility of finding meaning and dignity in one individual life. Tomas's philandering is (or so the author seems to argue) merely an attempt to find some "weight" in the peculiarities that separate one woman from another, supposedly only released during orgasmic ecstasy.

    His wife, Teresa, relegated to the role of a docile "love" whose bed Tomas sleeps in after repeatedly two-timing her, is the knowing and passive victim of his affections. Kundera's metaphysical wandering sometimes covers what on the surface is little more than one man's rationale for cheating. Under cover of intellectual investigation and existential suffocation, Tomas uses what freedom is given him to compensate for personal dissatisfaction using easy sexual conquest.

    Though Teresa does experience an epiphany toward the end, she still seems to be emotionally indentured to Tomas. But that's the price of allegory and books of ideas, I suppose....more info
  • A Good Existential Novel
    A thoughtful and intriguing novel that will appeal to fans of Existential-style novels. The didactic style that sometimes surfaces can be a little off-putting, but by and large it is an excellent read....more info
  • "Something higher"...
    ... and the vertigo that might accompany it. The fear of falling. Tereza saw "book readers" as a secret fraternity, as indeed, particularly in the audiovisual age, they are. (No doubt, book reviewers are a much smaller sub-set of this fraternity). Tereza aspired to more of life, and perceived books as a vehicle, and arrived at Tomas' apartment with a copy of "Anna Karenina" under her arm. Eventually their dog would be given her last name.

    I decided to re-read this novel, and found it even more rewarding than the first time, a time when the "Iron Curtain" still existed. Although Czechoslovakia no longer exists, nor does the nightmare of a police state that is so aptly described, Kundera's novel still dazzles. It simply works at so many different levels. His originality, in thoughts of the human condition, as well as novelistic style and technique, is impressive.

    One aspect of the novel is the challenge of living in an openly police state. How some individuals never notice, others are co-opted, others challenge. The fear that everyone is a police spy or informer, that the walls are bugged. Tomas is a highly skilled surgeon, emigrates, returns, and is eventually demoted to window washer. Society loses the skills honed after extensive training, all because Tomas simply "refuses to play the game." He also refuses to play the game of the defiant, refusing to sign a petition (p220) for amnesty, and I thought of Tom Courtney, in "The Loneliness of the Long Distant Runner" - someone who had to be their own person, despite the consequences of not playing the game. If one thinks that the marginalization of the skilled due to their lack of "political correctness" exists only in former communist societies, one need read Thomas Rick's excellent "Fiasco," about the staffing of American civilian positions in Iraq by only the "ideologically correct."

    Kundera's erudition is also impressive. There is language itself, music, the manner in which novels are written, ("The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities.") and large dollops of practical philosophy. Numerous are the quotable insights, consider: "A young woman forced to keep drunks supplied with beer... stores up great reserves of vitality, a vitality never dreamed of by university students yawning over their books... The difference between the university graduate and the autodidact lies not so much in the extent of knowledge as in the extent of vitality and self-confidence." Or: "The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call `poetic memory' and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful...love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory."

    There are four principal characters: Tomas and the woman "sent to him in a bulrush basket," Tereza, Franz, the professor of leftist causes, and the artist Sabina, of the iconic bowler hat. Some reviewers have criticized Kundera's characterizations, but I found even the minor characters, for example, Franz's wife, Marie-Claude, and Tereza's mother, drawn with powerful insights.

    So much of the novel's intensity centers on the most classic subject of the human condition: the relationship(s) with the opposite sex. From: "What is flirtation? One might say that it is behavior leading another to believe that sexual intimacy is possible, while preventing that possibility from becoming a certainty. In other words, flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee." Much sadder, or more cynically is: "Yes, a husband's funeral is a wife's true wedding! The climax of her life's work! The reward for her sufferings!" And for the philander (although Kundera only speaks of the male aspect), he says that it involves the search for the millionth part of dissimilarity between the one person and all the others. In one scene he captured it brilliantly as: "... the frightened expression of equilibrium lost." Kundera wryly works in that unforgettable practical advise for the philander to always make sure you wash your hair afterwards!

    Profound, sparkling, witty, and insightful. This novel rates 5 plus stars, and a third read; if one can live long enough.
    ...more info
  • Singular
    One of the discussion topics for this book, suggested by a reader below, is what one can read after reading this masterpiece. This work is so impressive it is impossible to recommend a follow up. Perhaps the answer is a re-read... which is what I did.

    I understand the author's thesis to be that historical crimes become lighter (more palatable) with historical distance so existence is lighter, but living in the time/place of their perpetration can be unbearable. This thesis is demonstrated through the main characters, Tomas and Tereza whose lives he sketches. There are three other characters, but their plight is not as engrossing.

    Through the lives of his characters Kundera shows how the Russians came to Czechoslovakia following WWII. He describes, in a way only one who has survived it can, how the occupiers put their tentacles into the lives of ordinary citizens.

    Tomas, like many who live in a dictatorship, faces the choice of standing up to the oppressors (and most likely losing his life) or complying (and dying a slow death in modest comfort). His fall gives him time and access for promiscuity. Prior to the occupation he built an emotional shell, but meeting former colleagues and patients permeates it. Although she is apolitical, Tereza's worries about the regime that could expose small transgressions, whether they are real and confabulated. As they continue to lose their privacy, peace of mind and their freedom of movement, their life together seems more and more lifeless.

    Other imagery and ideas such as (socialist) kitsch, the Grand March, a child in the rushes and a German expression that seems to mean "It will be" which seems to have the overtone of randomness, recur throughout the novel.

    This is a highly recommended and thought provoking novel.
    ...more info
  • One of the best novels that I've read in year
    "I've never thought about that" or "I've never thought about that in quite that way", is the best way that I can describe the overriding impression the Kundera's novel made on me. I won't attempt to describe the plot or the characters. Other reviewers have done a better job of that then I can, and besides, the plot and the characters are not exactly the point,as Kundera himself articulates throughout the novel. I will only say that even though The Unbearable Lightness of Being was published in 1984, it is eerily relavent in post 9/11 America. I found the author's description of kitsch, and particularly American kitsch, hauntingly appropriate given the hysterical flag flapping that followed 9/11, along with the pressure to support the political status quo and to never, never question their motivations .

    The book is about love, sex, but not sex for the sake of titillation, politics, and being. Which is better, the lightness of freedom or the weight and substance of continuity and responsibility? Since we only have one life, we have no basis for comparison and so we will never know.

    Most importantly this book will make you questions your assumptions, and perhaps, you too will look at lightness, weight and being in a new and different way.
    ...more info
  • Beautiful
    This novel is beautiful and sad, not because its plot or story, but because it will make us think about the meaning of life. There is a deep sadness, but also our own experiences and feelings, and many things that we have never thought before about life that are revealed by the author.
    If you like The Myth of the Sisyphus by A. Camus, you'll love this book. I don't know other novel like this one.
    ...more info
  • Fantastic Novel
    Kundera's story about love and sex and the vast grey area between the two was a very interesting and well realized work. Told from the point of view of four different characters, the story unfolds in a somewhat slow paced but very rewarding way.

    We have Tomas, his wife Tereza, his mistress and the mistress' other boyfriend (a married man who remains loyal to his only mistress). The story takes place on the backdrop of communism and we see Tomas give up an illustrious career first for love, then for his principles. Their lives go downhill a bit, but each one of them tries to find happiness in their own way.

    The relationships between man and woman are fully explored here, and there is a lot of pontification and musing on behalf of the author, which sometimes slows the story down and is sometimes quite profound. The story unraveled a bit in the penultimate chapter, but came back around for a strong (although not quite what I expected) ending....more info
  • not good
    To tell you the truth, I barely remember this book. I'm only left with the feeling that it was unbearably tedious, lacking in magic, and pandering to people looking for some really lame wisdom....more info
  • The portal to a plethora of enjoyable fiction
    I was introduced to this book by a boy in college. I am eternally grateful to him for facilitating my discovery of Milan Kundera and his works.
    Kundera has a spooky ability to narrate the inner world of women. I love the philosophical edge of his writing. I have read nearly every novel written by Kundera and I do not like belletristic literature - I read non-fiction. However, if I read novels, it is Kundera.
    Thank you Bernard Douthit for recommending this book to me....more info
  • returned it to barnes & noble
    i hated this book and quit reading it halfway through. it's been awhile but with all the glowing reviews i just had to throw this in. some people will NOT like it and will hate that they even wasted time trying. ...more info
  • DOUBLE D's...Dull and Disjointed.
    This book is incredibly uncompelling and dull. I felt the characters were weak and the story and philosophies disjointed. If you want to read a book where the plot is much more gracefully entwined with philosophy, read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence. This book was trying too hard to be pretentious...in fact, it was just boring. I don't mind pretentious books...if they are good. I was very excited to read this, as I never had, and found it to be a huge disappointment. Still can't get over how disjointed it was. ...more info
  • One of my favorite books
    I found The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera to be one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read. I chose it because my friend told me it was her favorite book. She explained the author's definitions of lightness and weight to me, which I thought were original and intriguing. Kundera's definition of lightness refers to the freedom we have in making decisions. Humans find this freedom unbearable, as the title suggests, because we want our decisions to matter and have weight- we feel helpless and lose our sense of control because our decisions are irrelevant to our fates.
    The characters Tomas and Sabina personify this idea of lightness. Tomas cheats on his loving wife, Tereza, with countless other women, thus utilizing his lightness in decision-making (since he does not consider the consequences it might have on his marriage). Yet, his love for Tereza provides for an internal conflict of seismic proportions. One of Tomas's lovers, Sabina, shares this lightness with him. Her rebellious personality is reflected in her affection for her bowler hat that desecrates society's expectations of femininity. She, too, has more than one lover, and often makes impulsive decisions.
    On the other hand, Tereza and Franz exemplify the weighty consequences of light decisions made by others. Tereza suffers immensely from her knowledge of Tomas's infidelity. It prevents her from loving him as fully and openly as she did at the beginning of the novel. Franz, another one of Sabina's lovers, experiences the same pain in response to Sabina's reluctance to be tied down to a single person. Franz's ultimate fate, as well, is decided by the incredibly and painfully light decision of a stranger.
    Both Kundera's plot and style are simple due to the great complexity of his theories. He makes extensive use of symbols and metaphors to demonstrate his philosophies concerning lightness and weight in addition to his views on communism, sexuality, parenting, and dreams. He also discusses very Freudian ideas concerning the latter three.
    The story takes place in Prague during the late 1960's, at the time of Russian oppression. The characters' attitudes about the Russian invasion serve to further illustrate their personalities. For example, the sensitive Tereza is visibly distressed when she sees the Czechoslovakian women teasing Russian soldiers, because she sees even these strangers as competition for winning Tomas's fidelity.
    The book is full of philosophical musings that revolve around Kundera's interpretations of lightness and weight as well as the four main characters. I would not consider it "light reading," since I believe that in order to fully appreciate the novel, it is necessary to view it on a symbolic level. For example, the whole of part three is devoted to the differences and misunderstandings between Franz and Sabina. These can easily be viewed on a literal level, but they are intended to exhibit Sabina's defiant nature as juxtaposed to Franz's loyalty and optimism, as well as to foreshadow the ensuing misunderstandings.
    The Unbearable Lightness of Being has become one of my favorite books. It is both interesting and enlightening. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in philosophy, oppressive regimes, or psychology. ...more info
  • good title
    this is not the best kundera book I have read. I preferred his "Immortality" which to me is a much deeper and challenging book. However, a Kundera book is always a gift and a challenge....more info