The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Review


The tale that started with Nietzsche and ended with Karenin.

I was introduced to Milan Kundera and his book two years ago. Talking to one of my dear friends at work who was taking up her master’s in literature, I was suddenly struck by her enthusiasm for The Unbearable Lightness of Being that it made quite an impression on me. I made a note in memory to read it.

Another friend lent me her copy. It was worn out and the pages have long turned to dirty white. I love it anyway. Actually, I love it all the more. The book showed signs of being read, passed down from hand to hand. I did not count on going through it for four months! Four months! It has beaten my old record of the longest time spent to get through a book!

It was not Milan Kundera’s fault, at least not entirely. A lot has happened in between. And I’ve read other books too. This particular reading experience though has made me realise what I have always suspected all along – timing also applies to books. I must have picked it up at the wrong time. Last November, I was not in the mood to read anything about love. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar has sent me into depression.

The Unbearable Lightness of being is not about love, I found out later. Or was it?

I give Kundera two thumbs up for his unique writing style. I haven’t read a book like it. (I know I’m still under read. There are too many books in this world. A lifetime is just not enough.) It is not exactly compelling. The plot is too slow-paced. The characters do not seem real. They are like ideas – an abstract – that sprouted from the author’s head and get assigned with gender and basic background information. Tomas is a doctor in Prague who met a young woman in a small Czech town. Tereza, a waitress, believes Tomas is brought into her life by fortuitous events – something to do with the number 6. She follows him to Prague, shows up at his place and right there and then, they made love.

And so start their long-winded journey. Interwoven into their lives are two other people who completed the complex love saga. The four of them love, but they love in different ways. As a chronic womaniser, Tomas has affairs with many different women, all the while claiming he loves Tereza. One of his women is Sabina, a painter. Sabina is mistress to another man – Franz. Their choices and actions propel the novel forward. Some of them are senseless. Others are downright stupid. But somehow, they tie up the strings and provide us with a unique experience.

I will not call the book a love story after all. A story about love, yes. Hell, it made me ponder that dreaded word and what it means. I even wrote a poem about it because I so disagree with the characters’ take on love that I have to define it on my own terms. Aside from the intricacies of love and choices, the book also explores the deeper relationship between a man and a woman – underlining their differences and highlighting their similarities. There is also a great deal of infidelity and a sense of individuality. The main characters are all intellectuals, even Tereza, who has a penchant for reading. They seem too detached from their fellowmen, at least that’s the impression I got while reading about their thoughts. They live inside their own heads.

But the book is certainly philosophical. I have an inkling Kundera only wrote it so he can shove down his philosophy down our throats. I was half-kidding. For all its faults, I can say that I have expanded my way of thinking after reading it. It is not something I regret.

Kundera made use of dreams to intensify the inner struggles of his characters. He also employs a lot of metaphors, and I love almost every one of them. And although minimal, there are bits and pieces of history and politics.

I know it is only a matter of when for me to forget the names of the characters, but the ideas they planted in my head will stay. They will stay for a long time.

Would I read another Kundera book? Absolutely.


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7 thoughts on “The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Review

  1. Hi Mitch , you picked a ncie book.
    Despite some critics branded Kunderas writings as colportage. Maybe they were referring to his “easy-reading” style.
    But for people “behind the iron curtain”, it was anything else than easy to read Kunderas books, since they were banned by the official politics. For us it was more important that Tomáš was so much worried to know that “If we only have one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all..”. Thats a really eternal and very existential question, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, Michael. Thank you for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. It was certainly a good read. I have a little idea about the banning of Kundera’s books. I can only imagine how difficult it is for you guys. I love the quote you mentioned. It is something we should ponder. One life, many lives, it doesn’t matter if we don’t know how to live in the now.
      Have a great day! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Mitch. I’ve read this book twice, and I liked it better the second time. Kundera’s works tend to go heavy on philosophy — they’re not exactly plot-driven, and a bulk of the text is just musings on love, or life, or whatever the hell the character wants to yak about (haha). But reading Kundera can be actually enjoyable once you already know what to expect. If you’re still open to reading more of him, I suggest you try “Slowness” next time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I should reread this book again. I actually like it enough the first time but some points must have went over my head. And you’re too right. He tends to get too philosophical. Thanks for the recommendation! I was toying with the idea of buying “Ignorance” last time. I’ll find “Slowness” and read it first. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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