A young woman is in love with a successful surgeon, a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing. His mistress, a free-spirited artist, lives her life as a series of betrayals - while her other lover, earnest, faithful, and good, stands to lose everything because of his noble qualities. In a world where lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and fortuitous events, and everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence we feel “the unbearable lightness of being.”
A major achievement from one of the world’s truly great writers, Milan Kundera’s magnificent novel of passion and politics, infidelity and ideas, encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, illuminating all aspects of human existence.
©1984; 1984 Milan Kundera; English translation © Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. (P)2012 HarperCollins Publishers
Elderly (1932), retired university professor, degrees in engineering and economics.
This is not a typical love story. When the opening paragraph of a story references Friedrich Neitzsche, we may conclude this is not going to be light, easy reading. Kundera is a new author for me. I like to learn something about the background of a new author; I find I can better understand where the writer is trying to take the reader (listener) if I know from whence he comes. (Thank you, Google.)
Milan Kundera was born in the Czech Republic in 1929. He grew up in the Balkan area in the aftermath of WWI, the German Occupation in WWII followed by the Russian Occupation, rebellions and subsequent uprisings. He emigrated to France in 1975. His life has been long and intense and gave opportunities to gain wisdom and a wide overview of life.
The story is built around three major characters and Karenin, a dog: Tomas, a successful surgeon in Prague who is an unabashed womanizer with a wife and son; Tereza, a young student working as a photo-journalist during the turmoil in the Balkans who falls in love with Tomas; and Sabina, a free spirit artist with a faithful lover while she is Tomas’ mistress. Around these characters, Kumdera weaves his philosophical questions of irrevocable, never to return periods of life and eternally returning cycles to be repeated over and over again.
His writing is lucid and compelling. There is love in many forms, from erotic sex to the love of a beloved dog. And, there are points to ponder as we examine our own experiences. His novel is worth the thoughtful hours required to follow him.
Having read the book in the 80's, and just finished listening to this production, what do I think might be important to someone considering this for the first time? The long and the longer:
*[This is a complex book, but not a difficult book. Don't be intimidated or turned off by "metaphysical philosophies", "psychoanalytical and existential themes", "post modern period " blah blah--unless you are reading this for a philosophy class. (In which case--get the textbook, lots of pencils and paper.) The title simply refers to 2 conflicting main philosophies, and getting these out of the way makes this less imposing. Roughly posited: Nietzche's idea of eternal return - every life/action repeats itself throughout time, therefore our decisions have weight (or heaviness); and Parmenide's philosophy of each person lives one life instead of recurring forever (therefore lightness), with the Kunderian addendum that the insignificance of our decisions causes great suffering and makes our being unbearable.
Get that out of the way and proceed bravely, because you do not need a background in philosophy to understand this book--just patience. Kundera himself has no formal education in philosophy. The philosophies lay the ground work for Kundera to argue his own ideas about love, oppression, existence, and coincidence...which he does--both sides in fact--with dreamy-like lyricism and maxims enjoyable only if you are willing to take the time to ponder what you are reading; this is one of those "savor" books. Again, it is not difficult, but complex--like eating an artichoke compared to a carrot. But if you want difficulty, you can get into Kundera's lifestory, his politics and theories--and dig in very deeply.]
Not completely a political, theological, philosophical, or romantic treatise- -the book is full of interesting ideas and weighty commentaries on each of these subjects. Set during the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the story of four tumultuous relationships serves mostly as a stage for the narrator's (obviously Kundera) personal, and sometimes intrusive, philosophies, moving along without any linear plot, and with characters that remain largely undeveloped. It is hard to compare to anything else I've read, except very vaguely with Gabriel Garcia Marquez in feel.
The narration was good, and I enjoyed hearing the book performed, but I could not have appreciated the book completely without having read the text version before. As to why this book so often receives rave reviews, I offer (and share) Pulitzer Prize winner M. Kakutani's appraisal: "The best books grow with us. Rather than presenting the same experience each time we reread them, they offer us newer, deeper, broader rewards that connect to many different aspects of the life we have been leading while we were away from them." Your appreciation of this book might be relative to where you are in life and your own personal struggles. I see it very differently than I did 20 years ago, but I still gain insight.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being isn't in my top ten, and I don't recommend this to every reader for reasons I hope I've made clear, but with rephrased and often quoted passages like these, you can understand its literary value and appeal:
"When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object."
"Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost."
"What can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?"
"True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power."
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
After hearing last month that the great Slavic translator Michael Henry Heim had died, I thought it was about time to float up and read some Kundera. I enjoyed the concept of ULoB probably better than the actual book (although I still felt the book was exceptional).
I certainly have my own issues with both Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrance and Kundera's alternative and existential 'lightness of being', but couldn't avoid liking the lugubrious way Kundera approached his subject and the way he explored the messy triangulations of life, love, history, sex, death and politics in this novel.
One glaring weaknesses, for me at least, was Kundera's tendency to turn his major characters into philosophical props. It was when Kundera waxed directly philosophical about kitsch or kindness that the novel resonated the strongest for me.
I have always wanted to read this book but put it off over the years. I knew it would not be light reading and since I am definitely a speed reader, I knew I would be tempted to skip some of the philosophical stuff and concentrate on the plot. So having it read to me was ideal – no speed reading (oh, except that on my iPod I could speed it up, but I never did!). This is a well-known and highly reviewed book by the Czech writer Milan Kundera. He uses the stories of two couples to inject his philosophical musings about Prague in the 1960s and 1970s particularly during the period of the 1968 Russian invasion and the damping effect it has on Czech society and on our couples in particular. The main character, Tomas, is a womanizing surgeon who goes from one lover to the other until he stumbles on Tereza who totally confuses him. He doesn’t give up his other affairs but she has a definite hold on him. The author compares the ideas of “lightness” – we have one life to life and this is it – to “heaviness” – life is an unending cycle of repeats. It is much more complicated than that, of course. Despite the “coolness” of the narrative, you get attached to the characters as you follow them from youth to aging and see the deadening effect of totalitarianism on individuals and effects their choices have. It is very definitely worth reading and because it is not light reading, it is an excellent book to have read to you. I am very glad I finally know what it is all about.
I have read this book (in book form) three times and seen the movie three times. And now heard it twice.
The book is a marvel--weaving together a moving story, memorable characters (especially, of course, Tereza), and thought-provoking, poetic meditations on love, fate, literature, art, music, and beauty..
But the despair that ultimately underlies the novel is troubling. This lightness of being sits heavy on the heart when all is said and done.
This crisp, clear, carefully modulated reading, was perfect. Richmond Hoxie's performance was exactly, syllable-by-syllable, right.
Estrujar el alma
I've seen glimpses of the books it references, such as "Anna Karinina" of Tolstoy in the over all feeling.
Also I drew some parallels in the story telling of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez. It also follows time and tragedy.
It is also very unique.
There have been too many to count. Two that I remember most clearly are the of the bowler hat, and the other is of the park benches in the river.
It is unique to me in the sense that there is no named character that is not fully fleshed out, and each character is the best and the worst in everyone. There is no character I don't love, and none that I don't hate. I can clearly see myself in all of them.
It is time well spent, there are lots of ideas and great character portrayals but after a while I felt like I was being lectured at. I wanted the ideas to be more an integral part of the narrative instead of being long discussions in the voice of the character but still totally outside of the character's likely behaviour. It was too frustrating.
Yes. There was enough wonderful to get over the fact that there was too much of a good thing. The narrator has a lovely voice too and I'm terribly picky about narrators.
Part love drama, part political commentary, part surrealist theater, part philosophical treatise. These genres kept intersecting one another, sometimes without a clear distinction. To top it off, the narrative was not linear. The author kept jumping forwards and backwards in time, in short chapters that seemed confusing. I found the redeeming value in occasional poignant observations and philosophical pondering of the author.
I have and will. Americans are too prudish and shallow. I was very excited then the audiobook was finally released because I've treasured this book for a long time now-2003.
I'll have to go with the second because the first is a tad X-rated. It was Kunera's comparison between Karenina/Vronsky and Tereza/Tomas. It was lovely and poetic and was entered into my poetic memory about nine years ago.
I haven't, so I can't compare. Sorry.
Better than Phillip Kaufman's adaptation.
Read or listen to this book. Highlight your copy.
I love audiobooks but I think his is one that might be better read. I found myself having to rewind often to ensure I understood what was being said. Very good though, and the narrator is excellent.
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