Immortality

Immortality

4.7 4
by Milan Kundera
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Despite its tendency to lecture the reader, "Immortality" never suffers from didacticism. As always, its author proves himself to be a master of orchestrating leitmotifs. . . . One is tempted by Mr. Kundera's writing to revise one's definition of a plot. Instead of calling it an action that arouses expectations, one might describe it as a series of verbal gestures that arouse curiosity. The wonder is that nothing is static in this author's work; everything develops and keeps changing shape. . . . strong and mesmerizing novel. -- New York Times
Washington Post Book World
Ingenious, witty, provocative and formidably intelligent, both a pleasure and a challenge to the reader.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Death and immortality are the interlocking themes of the author's first novel since his 1984 bestseller, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Kundera, himself a prominent character in the circular narrative, here contrasts the troubled, comic relationships among Goethe; his wife, Christiane; and Goethe's much younger friend Bettina von Arnim to the modern-day triangle of three imaginary Parisians: Paul; his wife, Agnes; and Agnes's sister Laura. In response to her father's death, Agnes confronts her own life and discovers that while her marriage has been happy, she has never known passion; Laura, a divorcee, has never experienced the love that goes beyond sex. The object of both sisters' affections is Paul and it becomes clear that their struggle over him will result in a victor and a loser. Kundera offers brilliant meditations on late-20th-century life, but the novel, combining essays, narrative and biographical material, lacks the dramatic tension of his earlier works. Nevertheless his astute observations on topics ranging from the media to Ernest Hemingway in themselves render this work interesting and significant. 100,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; BOMC selection; first serial to the New Yorker. (May)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060932381
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/28/1999
Series:
Perennial Classics Series
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
523,733
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Paris, France
Date of Birth:
April 1, 1929
Place of Birth:
Brno, Czechoslovakia
Education:
Undergraduate degree in philosophy, Charles University, Prague, 1952

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Immortality 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.