"Unbearable Lightness of Being" is not a book to be grabbed lightly. This book chronicles the lives of four intertwined people, Sabina, Franz, Tomas, and Tereza. It is a highly metaphysical look at their lives written from all four perspectives. Though the perspective changes often, there is never a question of which character is speaking, because of their fundamental differences. At first, this shifting of perspective may seem daunting, but ends up giving you critical insights into each of their characters. For instance, as I read Tomas' account of Tereza's often frantic and depressed moods, I found myself irritated with her character. This lasted until I was confronted with her fears, written in her perspective, and then I was able to empathize.
That being said, there is no real "story" to this book. While it follows the long-term lives of the characters, there is no one "plot line" holding them all together, except the theme of revolution, oppression, and betrayal. Characters tumble through time haphazardly and stories mesh together in this account set in Prague and Geneva. The background does not play heavily into the story, but is a backdrop for the turbid and tumultuous feelings and significant life events for each character. It is well worth a read, as it is evocative and insightful. Other times, it might want to make you pull your hair and wonder why you started reading, but it will keep you hanging on right to the end.
This was required reading in college, but I loved it. While unusual, I enjoyed hearing the same story told from each of the 4 main characters' perspectives. Each time you read the story, Kundera gave you insight into why each person does what they do. It reminds you that our lives are the same way - except we only get to read the story from our own perspective.
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 betrayalsâwhile 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.
LOVED IT! I put off reading this one for a long time thinking that it would be too deep, or too sad, or too something that wouldn't allow me to get into it. I'm so glad I finally picked it up! It would have translated well to the stage (and indeed reminds me a lot of "Closer") and I understand that it's also a movie; although I have not seen it. It's told from the perspective of the four main characters, and it's part philosophy, part romance, part introspective. The philosophy is not so heavy that it's cumbersome, it folds into the story so neatly that you find yourself wishing you'd had the benefit of the same perspective at a particular time in your own life. Whether or not you agree with the philosophy is irrelevant; it's written so well that you can appreciate it regardless. Lovely, thought-provoking, exciting, romantic, wonderful novel of the sort you could read and re-read and glean something fresh every time. I will be passing this around to friends before I re-post.
This was the second time I'd read this book. I'd forgotten that I'd
read it before. I talked to a couple of other people about it, and we
agreed that while it is very beautifully written, it does seem to be
strangely not extremely memorable. I'm not sure why. It feels somewhat
like a dream, and the details seem to slide away like those of a dream
This is mostly a story of a love triangle involving a Czech doctor,
Tomas, his wife Tereza, and one of Tomas' mistresses, Sabine. However,
it is also a book filled with Kundera's philosophical musings on the
nature and meaning of life - is every event and action an ephemeral,
one-time event, filled with "lightness" - or is the idea of "eternal
return" the one of value, where one believes that each event reoccurs
forever, set in stone, and filled with weight?
Personally, I feel that every event does only happen once, gone as
soon as acted - and that is precisely why our actions do have meaning;
they are unique. So I wasn't much for the philosophy, really.
However, I did really find the depiction of the Czech Republic in the
60s and 70s interesting, and thought it gave a fascinating insight
into what it was like to live in that time and place.
The characters are slightly abstract, but still appealing, in a way
that reminds me of the work of Anais Nin.
I would recommend the book, but don't feel that it is as significant a
work as its reputation might indicate.
My initial impression of the title--interesting but perplexing--applies to the rest of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Tomas is a successful Czech surgeon who engages in incorrigible womanizing; Tereza is his jealous, insecure wife who can not grasp Tomas's fundamental distinction between love and sex. Sabrina, a mistress of Tomas, is a free-spirited artist who betrays everything; Franz is a lover who idolizes her. Milan Kundera invents these characters and moves them around on the page starting from the Prague Spring of 1968 through to its aftermath. There is very little, non-linear plot, sparse language which describes the motivation of the characters, repeating motifs and large swaths of position statements from the author. There is a fragmented, almost unfinished quality to Kundera's writing, which leaves me still questioning what to make of his 1984 novel: Is it a deeply philosophical meditation on the meaning of life, love, chance, and fate? A critique of oppressive (Communist) political regimes? A chance to write about a lot of sex? The literary equivalent of sketchbook doodles? My best estimate is all of the above.
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.
I enjoyed this book, but to be completely honest, I am not sure if I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't enjoyed the movie as much as I did. Still, it was a lovely book and also really did a good job with describing the love between people, as well as the love between a woman and a dog.
I'm sure I should have gotten more out of it than I did. What I did get out of it was this: things happen. Maybe not the way we want them to or the way that we think we want them to, but they do happen. Tomas and Tereza's relationship is a strained one. He sees her as fragile, she sees him as a brute, but they love and care for each other very much. Sabina and Franz's relationship is filled with misunderstandings. They each think they know the other so well. Their lack of open, honest communication leads to one sad event after another.
The book delves deeply into these 2 relationships as well as 2 others (Tomas/Sabina & Franz/Marie-Claude). Though really there is also Tomas and Tereza's (separate) relationships with their dog, Karenin.
I admit, the first half of the book all of the characters annoyed me. I didn't understand why these people chose to be together if they just end up resenting each other. But then in the second half I started to understand it's about a philosophy about the lightness of being, which the reader will understand in the end. And it seems even the characters reach their own understanding of each other. It makes you realize that love can be measured in ways that might not normally occur to us.
What a stunningly written book this is! The translation is outstanding, making it difficult to believe that it was actually written in Czech rather than English.
My 21-year-old daughter brought it on our trip to China. She generally reads pulp fiction when she's not reading for her classes, so I was really surprised by her choice. I ran out of my own reading and stole this book from her, although I would probably not have picked it on my own.
It is not a plot-driven story, yet it pulls you along as Kundera's characterizations are so compelling that it's actually difficult to put the book down. While his prose is spare, it is still beautifully poetic. One can read the book for its philosophizing, for the character development, or for the sheer pleasure of reading a book that is well-written. Although it is ostensibly about a man who moves from one sexual relationship to another while he lives with a young woman, it surprisingly turns into a story about enduring love.
My daughter thought I might be offended by the protagonist's lack of morals, but I found that Kundera has managed to create characters that transcend morality without losing their substance. Many contemporary novels start out great, but can't sustain themselves all the way to the finish; this book is an exception to this observation. IMHO, this is one of the great books of the 20th century.
I enjoyed the in-depth development of the characters. A few times I lost patience because i couldn't see where the author was taking me. I read the first part of the book while multitasking and regretted it later on...pay attention to the subject of "lightness"...it's important. The four main characters are not immensely likable nor are they despicable in their character flaws. Kundera unfolds the story of their intersecting lives by delving into the depths of the intimate personality of each.
If you are a person who cannot put your morals in your pocket then this may not be the book for you. Tomas is married to Tereza but he has a daily appetite for other women, including Sabina. Tomas separates love and sex, Tereza cannot but is unable to leave Tomas and lives with almost debilitating anxiety as a result of his philandering. Sabina is a free-spirit, artist-type who was involved with Tomas and Franz. Franz left his wife and daughter to be with Sabina.
In a word, this book is about betrayal, not sex. It is not specifically about the physical act of sex but is about the meanings each character associates with sexuality, sexual participation, and love. The characters experiences with betrayal are portrayed in good detail...often in the realm of the bedroom which is the window to seeing into the psyche.
Overall, I liked it, didn't love it. Gave it 4-stars because Kundera is skilled with the use of language. Would have rated it higher if there were better transitions, as it is, I felt there were often abrupt endings/transitions that interfered with the flow.
I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being with a buddy in my online book club, The Reading Cove.
I wish I could say I enjoyed it more, but I found it to be very pretentious and overindulgent. The narrative felt like it had Tourette's syndrome, the characters were flat and disengaging. The author seems to be exploring the ideas of desire, infidelity, passion, love, lust and neediness, but these themes are draped around characters I could not have cared less about.
After the first half, I found none of the relationships even remotely interesting and the book became a chore to read. Not even the 1960s European setting and political backdrop could save it. I only finished because it was a buddy read. I'm still yawning.