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.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being was recommended to me by a friend after I told him I really loved Love in the Time of Cholera. Even after a few days after finishing the book, I’m still confused on how I feel about it.
The story has four main characters: Tomas, Tereza, Sabina, and Franz. It revolves mainly about their relationships but also has political and metaphysical themes. I’m going to break down this review into three areas: Characters, Writing, and Plot to better organize my thoughts.
There’s something oddly unnerving about Kundera’s characters. I felt at very extremes: either I couldn’t relate to them or they resounded so much with the (to reference the title) essence of being human that it made me uncomfortable. I admired how Kundera took very human and honest characters. This book is mainly about exploring them as people and less about developing an intriguing story. At times, I felt frustration with Tomas and Tereza and the fact that they were ttogether and weren’t brave enough to venture out of what I considered a very toxic relationship. Without any spoilers, Tomas’s womanizing threw me off completely and Tereza’s feeling for herself constantly made me think of her as weak and desperate. I didn’t admire her character at all.
However, Kundera explores what most writers don’t: the fact that these are terribly flawed, completely human characters. They are not the kind of people I’d like to spend time with but they are simply so human that one can’t help but realize that there is a lot of us in them. That, I think, is what made me really uncomfortable. Many might feel the same way, thinking that the characters reveal too much of their own selves.
In terms of plot, there really isn’t any. The story is more of a story of exploring human being rather than creating plot twists. That’s what makes it engaging. Although there are moments when you’re reading to see what happens next, it’s more about trying to figure out the reason why several characters do certain things rather than looking for a ‘surprise’ outcome.
I’d say this book is definitely a metaphysical/philosphical exploration of humans and relationships. Kundera has many great insights about positives and negatives and how the lines are often extremely blurred. This insight is what makes the book really unique and engaging. There are also some political aspects that while interesting, were a bit on the boring side sometimes and too much for an already heavy book.
Kundera’s omniscient writing enables him to explore each character’s to detail. His writing is a different type of writing that I’m accustomed to but it is incredibly beautiful and eloquent. Despite my frustration with the lack of plot and the stupidity of some characters, his writing made me feel both so light and so heavy that it really touched my emotions enough to keep reading. I would definitely pick up more books by him.
I might read this a second time in order to further study Kundera’s methods. I recommend this for a cold day in. It’s not a beach read and its a pretty heavy book. Good, but I don’t think it’s amazing. Happy reading!