Immortalityby Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera's sixth novel springs from a casual gesture of a woman to her swimming instructor, a gesture that cre-ates a character in the mind of a writer named Kundera. Like Flaubert's Emma or Tolstoy's Anna, Kundera's Agnès becomes an object of fascination, of indefinable longing. From that character springs a novel, a gesture of the
Milan Kundera's sixth novel springs from a casual gesture of a woman to her swimming instructor, a gesture that cre-ates a character in the mind of a writer named Kundera. Like Flaubert's Emma or Tolstoy's Anna, Kundera's Agnès becomes an object of fascination, of indefinable longing. From that character springs a novel, a gesture of the imagination that both embodies and articulates Milan Kundera's supreme mastery of the novel and its purpose: to explore thoroughly the great themes of existence.
Read an Excerpt
The woman might have been sixty or sixty-five. I was watching her from a deck chair by the pool of my health club, on the top floor of a high-rise that provided a panoramic view of all Paris. I was waiting for Professor Avenarius, whom I'd occasionally meet here for a chat. But Professor Avenarius was late and I kept watching the woman; she was alone in the pool, standing waist-deep in the water, and she kept looking up at the young lifeguard in sweat pants who was teaching her swim. He was giving her orders: she was to hold on to the to the edge of the pool and breathe deeply in and out. She proceeded to do this earnestly, seriously, and it was as if an old steam engine were wheezing from the depths of the water (that idyllic sound, now long forgotten, which to those who never knew it can be described in no better way than the wheezing of an old woman breathing in and out by the edge of a pool). I watched her in fascination. She captivated me by her touchingly comic manner (which the lifeguard also noticed, for the corner of his mouth twitched slightly). Then an acquaintance started talking to me and diverted my attention. When I was ready to observe her once again the lesson was over. She walked around the pool toward the exit. She passed the lifeguard, and after she had gone some three or four steps beyond him, she turned her head smiled, and waved to him. At that instant I felt a pang in my heart! That smile and that gesture belonged to a twenty-year-old girl! Her arm rose with bewitching ease. It was as if she were playfully tossing a brightly colored ball to her lover. That smile and that gesture had charm and elegance,while the face and the body no longer had any charm. It was the charm of a gesture drowning in the charmlessness of the body. But the woman, though she must of course have realized that she was no longer beautiful, forgot that for the moment. There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless. In any case, the instant she turned, smiled, and waved to the young lifeguard (who couldn't control himself and burst out laughing), she was unaware of her age. The essence of her charm, independent of time, revealed itself for a second in that gesture and dazzled me. I was strangely moved. And then the word Agnes entered my mind. Agnes. I had never known a woman by that name.
Meet the Author
Milan Kundera is the author of the novels The Joke, Farewell Waltz, Life Is Elsewhere, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Immortality, and the short-story collection Laughable Loves—all originally written in Czech. His most recent novels Slowness, Identity, and Ignorance, as well as his nonfiction works The Art of the Novel, Testaments Betrayed, The Curtain, and Encounter, were originally written in French.
- Paris, France
- Date of Birth:
- April 1, 1929
- Place of Birth:
- Brno, Czechoslovakia
- Undergraduate degree in philosophy, Charles University, Prague, 1952
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This one is a stunning masterpiece. Even in Kundera's brilliant oeuvre, it stands out. Kundera is one of the best observers of our modern life -both on a micro- and macro-level- and one of today's few noteworthy existentialists. While he is addressing complex issues in a very thoughtful and deep way, he manages to do so in a stunningly beautiful language and hugely enjoyable form. As if this would not suffice to make Immortality an outstanding read, Kundera also is one of the most experimental and innovative writers, redefining the rules of modern storytelling. If you think this review is too enthousiastic...read the book. I bet you agree: There is barely anything that comes even close to it in the late 20th century.
Writers usually begin with a story and then tease out themes and ideas from the plot. Kundera does the opposite; he begins with ideas, threading them together to form a story. This novel, and the characters within it, seem to exist (in fact Kundera strongly hints at this) as a mere background for those ideas. This isn't a criticism, however; the ideas are worthy and intriguing, such as time, modernism and sex, and the characters are still convincing (especially Agnes, who seems to be a cipher for Kundera). Many of the conclusions Kundera seems to draw are somewhat dismal, yet the novel still evokes a sense of beauty and sometimes even whimsy. The main reason I didn't give it 5 stars is because it doesn't quite reach the heights of his most famous novel: The Unbearable Lightness of Being.