The Unbearable Lightness of Being

( 72 )

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Malcolm
Brilliant . . . A work of high modernist playfulness and deep pathos. —New York Review of Books
Jim Miller
Kundera has raised the novel of ideas to a new level of dreamlike lyricism and emotional intensity. —Newsweek
Elizabeth Hardwick
Kundera is a virtuoso . . . A work of the boldest mastery, originality, and richness. —Vanity Fair
People Magazine
A meditation on life, on the erotic, on the nature of men and women and love...full of telling details, truths large and small.
Newsweek
Kundera has raised the novel of ideas to a new level of dream-like lyricism and emotional intensity.
Richard Locke
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is both a love story and a novel of ideas.... Witty, seductive, serious... also full of feeling and enormously experienced in the tricky interplay of sex and politics.... One of the finest and most consistently interesting novelists in Europe or America, [Kundera] has a powerful tale to tell.
The Washington Post Book World
Edmund White
Few contemporary writers have succeeded as Kundera has in combining a cool, elegant, formal objectivity with warm, intimate (almost embarrassingly intimate) pictures of the imperfect realities of adult love. Kundera's heroes may be Don Juans, but they are shy, apologetic ones; his women are intensely physical beings, but they are also as quirkily intelligent and stubbornly independent as his men.
The Nation
Frances Taliaferro
A work of large scale and complexity, symphonically arranged... political and philosophical, erotic and spiritual, funny and profound.... There is no wiser observer now writing of the multifarious relations of men and women.... Kundera's intelligence is both speculative and playful. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is his best novel yet.
The Wall Street Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060932138
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 43,541
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

The Franco-Czech novelist Milan Kundera was born in Brno and has lived in France, his second homeland, since 1975. He 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.

Biography

For someone whom the world regards as a serious intellectual, Milan Kundera has a brilliantly twisted sense of humor. His novels depict a world of awkward orgies and disastrous pool parties, mad scientists and self-pitying poets who contract pneumonia out of spite. While Kundera's works tackle profound issues of human identity, they also playfully juggle ambiguities, ironies and paradoxes. "The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question," he said in a 1980 interview with Philip Roth. "There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead."

Kundera was born in Brno, Czechoslovkia in 1929. Like many young Czechs who had come of age during World War II and the German occupation, Kundera was attracted to Marxist philosophy, which seemed to promise a new freedom and peace. The first literary works he produced (three volumes of poetry and a play, The Owners of the Keys) were essentially Communist propaganda, though they didn't always conform to the tenets of socialist realism approved by the state. His resistance to the official restrictions on literature helped lead to his involvement with the "Prague Spring," the brief-lived reform movement toward "socialism with a human face."

During the '60s, Kundera began writing short stories, collected as Laughable Loves, which he would later identify as the beginning of his mature work. In several of them, jokes that start out as innocent pranks evolve into catastrophes for both perpetrator and victim -- they are deeds that, like the Czech version of Communism, have escaped the control of their creators. Kundera's first novel, The Joke, concerns a young man who is brought up on political charges after sending a teasing postcard to his girlfriend ("Optimism is the opium of the people!").

The Joke was published to wide acclaim shortly before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Following the invasion, Kundera was ousted from his film-studies teaching job, his books were pulled from libraries and bookstores, and he was forbidden to publish new work. He went on writing, however, and his novels Life Is Elsewhere and The Farewell Party were published outside his native country. Farcical and bleak, the novels developed what would become a recurring theme for Kundera, in which commitment to an abstract moral principle paves the way for corruption and evil.

In 1975, Kundera fled Czechoslovakia and settled in France, where he eventually became a citizen. His first book produced in exile, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, remains one of his most celebrated works, weaving together autobiographical reflections with a series of connected fictions. John Updike, writing in the New York Times, called it "brilliant and original, written with a purity and wit that invite us directly in; it is also strange, with a strangeness that locks us out." His next novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, also drew high praise, and the 1988 film version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche turned Kundera into something of a celebrity.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the political pressures that shaped his early life and works, Kundera has long insisted that the novel should be a work of art, not a political or ideological statement. By the '90s, Kundera had started to write his novels in French; he is now sometimes tagged a "Franco-Czech" author. His works are often described as "novels of ideas," but he resists the term "philosophical novel." As he said in an interview with Lois Oppenheim, "There are metaphysical problems, problems of human existence, that philosophy has never known how to grasp in all their concreteness and that only the novel can seize."

Good To Know

Kundera joined the Communist party while still in his teens, but was expelled in 1950 (an experience that helped inspire his 1967 novel The Joke). He was readmitted to the party in 1956, then expelled again in 1970.

Kundera's father played the piano, and Kundera himself studied music composition. He has often described his novels in musical terms as "polyphony," in which different voices are juxtaposed to build up a unified whole. As he told Philip Roth, the "various stories mutually explain, illumine, complement each other."

According to Kundera, there are four great European novelists: Franz Kafka, Hermann Broch, Robert Musil and Witold Gombrowicz. He has called the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal "our very best writer today."

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

Read an Excerpt

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
A Novel

One

The idea of the 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?

Putting it negatively, 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 excruciating torment.

Will the war between two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century itself be altered if it recurs again and again, in eternal return?

It will: it will become a solid mass, permanently protuberant, its inanity irreparable.

If the French Revolution were to recur eternally, French historians would be less proud of Robespierre. But because they .deal with something that will not return, the bloody years of the Revolution have turned into mere words, theories, and discussions, have become lighter than feathers, frightening no one. There is an infinite difference between a Robespierre who occurs only once in history and a Robespierre who eternally returns, chopping off French heads.

Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them: theyappear without the mitigating circumstance of their transitory nature. This mitigating circumstance prevents us from coming to a verdict. For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit? In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.

Not long ago, I caught myself experiencing a most incredible sensation. Leafing through a book on Hitler, I was touched by some of his portraits: they reminded me of my childhood. I grew up during the war; several members of my family perished in Hitler's concentration camps; but what were their deaths compared with the memories of a lost period in my life, a period that would never return?

This reconciliation with Hitler reveals the profound moral perversity of a world that rests essentially on the nonexistence of return, for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything cynically permitted.


Two


If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. That is why Nietzsche called the idea of eternal return the heaviest of burdens (das schwerste Gewicht).

If eternal return is the heaviest of burdens, then our lives can stand out against it in all their splendid lightness.

But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

Parmenides posed this very question in the sixth century before Christ. He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/nonbeing. One half of the opposition he called positive (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative. We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple except for one difficulty: which one is positive, weight or lightness?

Parmenides responded: lightness is positive, weight negative.

Was he correct or not? That is the question. The only certainty is: the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all.


Three


I have been thinking about Tomas for many years. But only in the light of these reflections did I see him clearly. I saw him standing at the window of his flat and looking across the courtyard at the opposite walls, not knowing what to do.

He had first met Tereza about three weeks earlier in a small Czech town. They had spent scarcely an hour together. She had accompanied him to the station and waited with him until he boarded the train. Ten days later she paid him a visit. They made love the day she arrived. That night she came down with a fever and stayed a whole week in his flat with the flu.

He had come to feel an inexplicable love for this all but complete stranger; she seemed a child to him, a child someone had put in a bulrush basket daubed with pitch and sent downstream for Tomas to fetch at the riverbank of his bed.

She stayed with him a week, until she was well again, then went back to her town, some hundred and twenty-five miles from Prague. And then came the time I have just spoken of and see as the key to his life: Standing by the window, he looked out over the courtyard at the walls opposite him and deliberated.

Should he call her back to Prague for good? He feared the responsibility. If he invited her to come, then come she would, and offer him up her life.

Or should he refrain from approaching her? Then she would remain a waitress in a hotel restaurant of a provincial town and he would never see her again.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
A Novel
. Copyright © by Milan Kundera. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Part One Lightness and Weight 1
Part Two Soul and Body 37
Part Three Words Misunderstood 79
Part Four Soul and Body 129
Part Five Lightness and Weight 173
Part Six The Grand March 241
Part Seven Karenin's Smile 279
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First Chapter

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Twentieth Anniversary Edition

One

The idea of the 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?

Putting it negatively, 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 excruciating torment.

Will the war between two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century itself be altered if it recurs again and again, in eternal return?

It will: it will become a solid mass, permanently protuberant, its inanity irreparable.

If the French Revolution were to recur eternally, French historians would be less proud of Robespierre. But because they .deal with something that will not return, the bloody years of the Revolution have turned into mere words, theories, and discussions, have become lighter than feathers, frightening no one. There is an infinite difference between a Robespierre who occurs only once in history and a Robespierre who eternally returns, chopping off French heads.

Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them: they appear without the mitigating circumstance of their transitory nature. This mitigating circumstance prevents us from coming to a verdict. For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit? In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.

Not long ago, I caught myself experiencing a most incredible sensation. Leafing through a book on Hitler, I was touched by some of his portraits: they reminded me of my childhood. I grew up during the war; several members of my family perished in Hitler's concentration camps; but what were their deaths compared with the memories of a lost period in my life, a period that would never return?

This reconciliation with Hitler reveals the profound moral perversity of a world that rests essentially on the nonexistence of return, for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything cynically permitted.


Two


If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. That is why Nietzsche called the idea of eternal return the heaviest of burdens (das schwerste Gewicht).

If eternal return is the heaviest of burdens, then our lives can stand out against it in all their splendid lightness.

But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

Parmenides posed this very question in the sixth century before Christ. He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/nonbeing. One half of the opposition he called positive (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative. We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple except for one difficulty: which one is positive, weight or lightness?

Parmenides responded: lightness is positive, weight negative.

Was he correct or not? That is the question. The only certainty is: the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all.


Three


I have been thinking about Tomas for many years. But only in the light of these reflections did I see him clearly. I saw him standing at the window of his flat and looking across the courtyard at the opposite walls, not knowing what to do.

He had first met Tereza about three weeks earlier in a small Czech town. They had spent scarcely an hour together. She had accompanied him to the station and waited with him until he boarded the train. Ten days later she paid him a visit. They made love the day she arrived. That night she came down with a fever and stayed a whole week in his flat with the flu.

He had come to feel an inexplicable love for this all but complete stranger; she seemed a child to him, a child someone had put in a bulrush basket daubed with pitch and sent downstream for Tomas to fetch at the riverbank of his bed.

She stayed with him a week, until she was well again, then went back to her town, some hundred and twenty-five miles from Prague. And then came the time I have just spoken of and see as the key to his life: Standing by the window, he looked out over the courtyard at the walls opposite him and deliberated.

Should he call her back to Prague for good? He feared the responsibility. If he invited her to come, then come she would, and offer him up her life.

Or should he refrain from approaching her? Then she would remain a waitress in a hotel restaurant of a provincial town and he would never see her again.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Twentieth Anniversary Edition
. Copyright © by Milan Kundera. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
Tereza and Tomas, Tomas and Sabina, Sabina and Franz, Franz and Marie-Claude--four people, four relationships. Milan Kundera's masterful novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), tells the interlocking stories of these four relationships, with a primary focus on Tomas, a man torn between his love for Tereza, his wife, and his incorrigible "erotic adventures," particularly his long-time affair with the internationally noted painter, Sabina. The world of Kundera's novel is one in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and fortuitous events. It is a world in which, because everything occurs only once and then disappears into the past, existence seems to lose its substance and weight. Coping with both the consequences of their own actions and desires and the intruding demands of society and the state, Kundera's characters struggle to construct lives of individual value and lasting meaning.

A novel of ideas, a provocative look at the ways in which history impinges on individual lives, and a meditation on personal identity, The Unbearable Lightness of Being examines the imperfect possibilities of adult love and the ways in which free choice and necessity shape our lives. "What then shall we choose?" Kundera asks at the beginning of his novel. "Weight or lightness?" This international bestseller is his attempt to answer that question. And the answer is hinted at in the novel's final scene, in which Tomas and Tereza find themselves in a small country hotel after a rare evening of dancing. When Tomas turns on the light in their room, "a large nocturnal butterfly" rises from the bedside lamp andcircles the room in which they are alone with their happiness and their sadness.

Discussion Topics
1. What kinds of being carry the attribute of lightness? How is the "lightness of being" of the novel's title presented? In what ways is it "unbearable"? What is the difference between "the sweet lightness of being" that Tomas enjoys in Zurich, after Tereza's return to Prague, and "the unbearable lightness of being"?

2. How does Nietzsche's myth of eternal return, with which Kundera opens his book, function in the novel? What does Kundera mean when he refers to "the profound moral perversity of a world that rests essentially on the nonexistence of return"? How does what he calls the unbearable burden of eternal return contrast with the "splendid lightness" of our daily lives?

3. How would you describe the three central relationships of the novel--Tereza and Tomas, Tomas and Sabina, Sabina and Franz? How do they embody Kundera's primary concerns and themes?

4. In what ways does Kundera explore what he calls "the irreconcilable duality of body and soul, that fundamental human experience." In what ways does he show this duality to be fundamental?

5. Both Tereza and Tomas repeatedly think of the series of fortuitous events that brought them together. What is the rule of fortuity, chance, and coincidence in their lives and the lives of others? What does Kundera mean when he writes, "Chance and chance alone has a message for us"?

6. In what ways may Sabina's description of her dual-level paintings--"On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth"--apply to every aspect of the characters' lives and relationships?

7. What meanings and importance do each of the main characters ascribe to fidelity and betrayal? In what instances, for each character, do fidelity and betrayal have either positive or negative qualities?

8. Kundera insists that "the criminal regimes were made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they had discovered the only road to paradise." What visions or versions of paradise are presented in the novel? By whom? How does each vision/version of paradise affect the lives of its enthusiasts and the lives of others?

About the Author

"Kundera has raised the novel of ideas to a new level of dreamlike lyricism and emotional intensity."
--Newsweek
The Franco-Czech novelist Milan Kundera was born in Brno and has lived in France, his second homeland, for more than twenty years. He is the author of the novels The Joke, Life Is Elsewhere, Farewell Waltz, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Immortality, and the short story collection Laughable Loves--all originally in Czech. His most recent novels, Slowness and Identity, as well as his nonfiction works, The Art of the Novel and Testaments Betrayed, were originally written in French.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 72 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(43)

4 Star

(16)

3 Star

(8)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(1)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 72 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 12, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Wow - breath-taking

    Please read this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2007

    Almost the best philosophical novel

    When I first read this book I thought it would be one of those best novels that conveys deep and meaningful thoughts. But as I kept reading it the story keeps switching back and forth to different characters and I finally was about to put the book down. The erotic events of the book some-what kept me going, but for a while the book can be kind of boring. It can drag the reader very slowly to the end and the reader may not know how many of those events relate to the title or the theme. The book is deep, and it requires some deep thinking to understand and connect the events to the title. I personally think that I didn't spend enough time connecting the events into one huge philosophical theme, and I don't think many readers have that kind of time or would wanted to. Overall it's a decent book but since I'm a highschool student my reading level barely matches with the book's. I would reccomend it to those who are high level readers or simply to book-smart folks. I would like to put a warning sign for dim-witted readers who like to read cliche books, almost like me, so 'beware the unknown'

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2003

    Breath Deep Poetry

    It was one of those books that you wanted to read over and over again so that you could quote it to everybody you talked to.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 8, 2013

    I think that I still don't really understand who this book was a

    I think that I still don't really understand who this book was about. There were a handful of main characters who jumped around as the center of attention for most of the book, which also jumped back and forth through time a few times. None of which is an ideal characteristic in a book for me. Though I was confused most of the book, there were parts that I laughed at, cringed at, had ephinay-like thoughts at, and towards the end, even cried at. But because I was so confused, I decided that this book just wasn't for me. It was ok though.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2013

    A warning beforehand , reading Kundera is not a walk in the park

    A warning beforehand , reading Kundera is not a walk in the park for the casual reader. The book is vague with a
    thinly woven plot line but anybody who is sensitive to language and appreciates brainy writing is bound to end up 
    underlining half of the words. It is a book of ideas and characters as opposed to plot. Whilst most readers retain the 
    reasonable desire to be told a story , others balk at the idea of a beginning , middle and end. The novel is a realistic excerpt 
    from the lives of a handful of people. I would recommend it to students of literature and anybody who generally takes an interest
     in heavy literary achievements. This novel does not fit neatly into the subcategory of popular fiction,
    rather, it requires attention , patience and sensitivity. Having said that though , i am only sixteen ,
     and though im a lit student i wouldnt consider the book beyond anybody else's comprehension. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 20, 2011

    If you like to read stories that make you think about life....

    you'll love this.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 20, 2011

    very good

    Enchanting, engaging, provocative... this is a very good novel!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Brilliant Novel!

    I wasn't sure what to expect when I began to read this book, but I know now that it's amazing. It's very original, and Milan Kundera is a wonderful writer.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2009

    Amazing

    One third novel, one third philosophic discussion and one third European history book. Milan Kundera is one of the best authors of our time.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 15, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Forget the film. Read the book.

    I read this book almost 15 years ago and I still get emotional thinking about it. The characters were heart-breaking. I re-read passages over and over, it felt so intimate. I felt like I was invading the privacy of the characters. This book still affects how I feel about life and love.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2008

    Not What I'd Hoped

    Because of the high ratings, I'd assumed this book would be a good read. It was not. If you're looking for a good story, this is not the book for you. I'm sure there is great philosophical value to the book, so only choose this book if that's what you're looking for.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2007

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2006

    stimulating

    this book is awesome. this book is a must read and a must have for me. 'the unbearable lightness of being' is one of the worst descriptive book i've read but this book is on a mental plane, of the higher mind. this novel is about thomas and tereza's umbilical love and thomas urgency to be with tereza as thomas continues his ifideities. kendera interjects his theories along the story that makes me look at life through a new perspective. makes me qestion life as it untwines. i strongly recommend this book. to date 'the unbearable lightness of being,' is the best book i have read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2006

    Philosophy Meets Real Life...

    This book by Milan Kundera combines the best of philosophy interwoven with an entrancing storyline. In the first chapter, the author introduces the idea of polar opposites that exist in life, most generally, lightness and weight. Light individuals foster the idea that, since our lives transpire only once, events are essentially meaningless, or at the very least, carry no significant ramifications. They do not begrudge the weighty, as even this would be burdensome and over-analytical. Dangerously, though, these individuals border in the verge of insignificance and pettiness for all their actions. Those weighted down though, the cautious, forethinking, and responsible, find a great sense of purpose in every action, no matter life's transience. Yet even these people can find their own existence too pedantic, and need flight. These tensions serve as background for Tomas's and Tereza's marriage. Ironically, it is their very opposition that seems to bond them together, not with intimacy, but by the comfort that they are supplying to each other the needed amount of respective lightness and weight. They are a balanced scale, not indulging in their own stances. Through these characters, Kundera wrestles with the ideas of misunderstanding, irresolution, intentions, corruption of purity, indecision, and human weakness. Besides this omnipresent dichotomy, Kundera also explores the idea of body vs. soul, a sought-after paradise, and the inconsequence of most humans actions (what happens when ideals we value are defiled, when the poles of life near). The lyricism in this novel is undeniable, adamently conveying the realities which define people's lives, and people's lives which define reality. This interchange between the influenced and influencing persists, leaving the reader in a suspended paradox, unable to determine what is right, and what is wrong. A clever narration chronology sheds light on this illogicality. I strongly recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2005

    Intelligent yet entertaining

    In the Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera not only tells a gripping tale, but also gives readers interesting philosophy and an ambiguity and deepness more characteristic of high level literary masterpieces. This one is definitely worth reading and thinking about.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2004

    Not as 'Unbearable' as You Think...

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being is about the sex lives of two central characters, the always horny Tomas and the always confused Tereza, in the middle of 1960s Czechoslovakia. While the Communists are making a mess of the world around them, Tomas is making a mess of Tereza by sleeping around and Tereza is making a mess of herself by questioning life. Through moves as close as Switzerland and as far as Cambodia, they always find themselves back with eachother. Could it be meant to be? Milan Kundera, the author, has an interesting way of presenting his theories of the world to the reader. He does it by intertwining them through the lives of Tereza and Tomas. Kundera gives his interpretations on God, Comunism, love, and war with the help of Tereza's imagination and frequent dreams. Also, the plot twists and turns through the whole story. It frequently jumps through time and changes who it focuses on (kind of like a 'Quantum Leap' thing) and explains different points of views on many of the same topics. It leaves you wondering how the characters will be involved with eachother in the end, and that's the exciting part of the book. You'll have to read it to find out how it ends.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2004

    Great fiction with philosophical meaning

    I rarely read romance novels with such good philosophical ideologies as backbone. After reading it, I reflect on relationships and my expectations of if between what being bearable and unbearable. I also feel fortunate that in the society I live in today, politics and partism do not get into my ways of living; thus as a result, I am not imposed upon by the society the burden of the unbearable lightness of being. It is a great read but it's not easy to digest. It introduces many interesting philosophical ideas. They guide readers to put the meaning of their lives and living in the context of the philosophical ideas involved. As a result, the journey becomes both a reading experience as well as an introspective exercise. I'd like to read it a 2nd time to comprehend in further extent the philosophical thoughts introduced in this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2003

    do you know what it means to feel?

    Some people say that they experience a profound moment of epiphany or euphoria through a sunrise, a symphony, a near-death experience. Try this novel. If you are one who thinks you may be incomplete, or have made mistakes and misdirected your love, you will feel the passions of these characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2002

    very interesting

    i think kundera is exceptional. a must read! however,'identity' is my personal favourite.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2002

    writing as art

    My friend lent me this book, telling me it changed the way she saw so much. And it did the exact same for me. Kundera has this amazing way of incorporating his amazing philosophy into an intense story of loves. Kundera truly confirms that writing is a form of art.

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