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The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera

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Author: Milan Kundera / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 29 April 1985 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Faber & Faber / Title: The Unbearable Lightness of Being / ISBN 13: 9780571135394 / ISBN 10: 0571135394

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

    4 Reviews
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      08.07.2008 13:30
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      a classic that raises essential questions about life

      The unbearable lightness of being - the title alone is confusing. what does it mean? is life light? is it really easy to be? but if it is, why is the lightness unbearable?
      Milan Cundera has answers to these qustions. This philosophical novel reveals why the decisions we make might not matter at all.

      He tells the story of Tomas and Tereza - two lovers who meet only because of various coincidences and fall in love. But their idea of love is not the same, their love is not easy. Tomas needs sex and betrayal, he needs to explore every woman to find her essence. Teresa needs only Tomas and her gentle soul suffers from his cheating.

      But Kundera also tells the story of Czechoslowakia in the wake of the Prague Spring. Tomas is a sucessful surgeon, Teresa works as a photographer for a newspaper. But when the Russians invade their country everything changes.
      How far would you go to defend your right to the freedom of speech, your personal opinion, your pride? It is hard to imagine what it is like to live under such circumstances.

      I think this book shows that life is never easy. It shows that we do have only one life and therefore every decision is unbearably light - or just unbearably hard to make. Maybe every one has to decide this on his own.
      This book will definitely make you think about all these questions. To me it showed that freedom is a gift not everybody gets. But even if everything seems to be against us we can still make our decisions - only to a much higher price.
      If it is the right decision? We'll never know - cause we live only once.

      I'd recommend this book to everyone who likes to think about life, who maybe needs some answers to life or who are just looking for a really good book to read!

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        04.11.2007 03:01
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        One of Milan Kundera's most acclaimed novels

        I saw the film before I read the book and enjoyed both in different ways. It is perhaps because of the film that this book became Kundera's best known work. It certainly one of his best novels but there are others such as 'Immortality' that for me are equally exceptional. 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' is a fictional story set against the historical background of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The story revolves around the amorous interactions of four principle characters: a philandering surgeon Tomas; a barmaid called Teresa, a lecturer called Franz and the woman with the hat; Sabina.

        The story is essentially a romance but the book is unconventional in that the characters lack depth and there isn't really a drawn out sequenced plot. Instead we get an array of Kundera's philosophical and political observations tied into the lives of the four main characters. There is also his fascination with all that is kitsch and his love of animals is fervently expressed: "True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test consists in its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals".

        Milan's writing style might not be to everyone's taste but I like his method of stepping back from the story every so often and by analyzing the situations and relationships of the characters in a kind of one sided dialogue with the reader, one is made to feel like a voyeur secretly observing the intimate lives of others. The narration is done in beautiful prose and is often rich in metaphor. One theme is the idea of sex without love, a practicing philosophy that Tomas manages to achieve but which Teresa finds unbearable. For Teresa, love and sex are part of an integral whole and she struggles to achieve the 'Lightness of Being' that Tomas seems to adopt so easily. As such, Teresa suffers from the heaviness of life. Thus we have the leitmotif of the novel.

        Life and death are also explored through the metaphor of light and dark and in doing so, Kundera rejects nihilism and tries to provide solutions to some of our existential dilemmas. As in many of his novels there is also the ongoing understated criticism of the authoritarian communist state dictatorship in which Kundera was brought up. Although set in the late 60's and published in the early 1980s, Kundera's novel is still as relevant today. An enjoyable and thought provoking read.

        The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, translated by Michael Henry Heim, 314pp, published by Faber.
        Amazon Price: £4.79

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          08.02.2004 06:35
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          This is perhaps Kundera's best known work. The first one that I came across, and the one that sparked in me an obsessive love for the dark, funny and awe-inspiringly intelligent Kundera. I'll come clean now and say it's probably not my favourite, but I think it's one of the most accessible, which is probably why I found it nestled in a three-for-two offer in waterstones three years ago and picked it up out of curiosity. Ok, and because I liked the self conscious sounding title. I read it on holiday in no time at all, and knew from a very short way in that I had stumbled upon something special. So my love affair with Kundera was born. Just how he creates such stunning pieces from his pen is beyond me, but thank goodness he does. I've read this particular book twice now, and feel that it's about time you all thumbed through it too, which is why I am going to try my best to give you a flavour of a book which by its very nature is almost impossible to describe, and defies pinning down... As always, the writing is pitched to perfection. Though this has been translated into English, I am sure that it has been done so accurately, it resounds with beauty, the words flow and pull you through, so that you take in the story and all of Kundera's ponderous asides with the smallest of efforts. The narration of the story is rich with ideas and images that make you really think. If that sounds like too much hard work then maybe you're not the right audience, I know alot of people can't get to grips with the style, it's so very unlike anything you will find on the bestseller lists these days. The novel is set against a bleak backdrop of Eastern European Communism and the Russian invasion of Prague. The fictional story is embedded very firmly within a factual, historical background, by virtue of which the characters we come to meet seem as real as their setting. The central themes played out are of Love, sex and lust, and of l
          ife and death. Kundera also manages to weave in many of his personal favourite subjects, an exile from the regime himself, this book was published just before the fall of it in the 1980s. That connection makes it more than just a story telling effort, it has political undertones, sewn into the narrative, but in a very readable way. The essential 'plot', if you will, revolves around Tobias, our unfaithful male protagonist, Doctor and womaniser, who falls in love with Teresa, our female viewpoint, and marries her. When the Russians invade they flee their homeland and make a life elsewhere, but Teresa returns to Prague and Tobias ends up following her, although he knows he will never again be able to leave, and will be trapped within the communist regime as an 'enemy' thanks to his speaking out against the State. Despite this manifestation of his love, he continues once back in Prague to have repeated one night stands, and to mantain a relationship with Sabina, who in turn has another lover in the 'heavier' Franz. All these characters are well drawn, Kundera paints their flaws in just as vividly as their good points, so that they come off the page at you as well rounded people, real people, who all clamour for your sympathy, all in some manner deserve your disgust. This is just a glimpse of the tangled emotional web that makes up the fibre of this book. Sex for Tobias is not linked to love, and this lack of emotion makes him weightless, hence the title. Conversely, Teresa feels her life is heavy around her shoulders, but though aware of the philanderings of her husband, she stays with him. Is this weakness or strength? Asks Kundera of his reader. Is Life heavy, does it weigh us down with meaning, or is it so fleetingly insignificant that we feel giddy with the lightness of it? Which conclusions you draw will be down to your personal beliefs, my cousin and I read this book within a week of each other and held entirely differen
          t philosophical conclusions as a result. But whichever way it pushes you, it will make you think. That is the true beauty of Kundera, he doesn't tell stories for the hell of it, his goal seems not to be to entertain, although he certainly does. These are works of Art, historical snapshots, philosophical musings. Kundera prods you, sometimes gently, sometimes with a sharpened finger, to see the world around you. And to question it. "Horror is shock, a time of utter blindness. Horror lacks every hint of beauty. All we can see is the piercing light of an unknown event awaiting us. Sadness, on the other hand, assumes we are in the know." A timeless, ephemeral, must-read of a book... 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' by Milan Kundera

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            23.04.2001 00:03
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            Kundera’s most famous novel is a complex book. Set against the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the story evolves around different fictional topics but could just as well be the story of real people. A man torn between thought and emotion, between love and lust. A woman who lives for rebellion. Another whose body is simply an amplifier for her emotions. Tomas, the male protagonist, falls in love with Teresa and marries her, while still having many one-night stands in an attempt to give weight (meaning) to his life. Moreover, he maintains a love-affair with Sabina. Teresa is aware of Tomas' adulteries and cannot bear the situation, which manifests itself in numerous detailed nightmares illustrating the realities of life. For Teresa, love and sex go together, whereas Tomas believes that having sex without love is possible. The female protagonist therefore suffers from the heaviness of life, while her male counterpart feels the unbearable lightness of being. Teresa later tries to gain this lightness for herself. Most of us carry the heavy and the light, the expression of either part depending on our character and circumstances. For that reason, one can identify with Teresa as well as Tomas and Sabina too. Kundera led me to understand that the "specialness" of relationships is not really held in the place that we tend to think it is nor manifests itself in the way that we wish. That love is not what we think it is and unfortunately can sometimes only be gained through situations that we would otherwise find abhorrent if not consumed with these feelings. Sex and love are so intimately joined that it is very difficult to distinguish between the two. Tereza stayed with Tomas knowing he spent most days and nights in another woman’s arms because she loved him, and therefore would suffer anything for him. For her, sex and love were the same thing and that is what tormented her but at the same time made her stay. Is Te
            reza’s acceptance weakness or a pessimistically hopeful attempt to gain love through persistence and loyalty? The very fact that they stay together and seem to find some degree of happiness illustrates that an acceptance of a relationship that falls well short of satisfying and fulfilling hopes, is possible. Is Tomas and Tereza's tolerance of their imperfect love, their acceptance of where they have arrived at simply a reflection of the fact that you can't change the strong’s oppression of the weak? You may hate it, as Tereza hates Thomas' infidelity, but you have to accept it and move on. However, this suggestion that change can only be incremental (at best) and that basically everyone must cope with life, however awful, must be rejected. Life without dreams is no life at all, but perhaps this is the very point that Kundera was trying to portray. Kundera plays with opposites: life and death, heaviness and lightness throughout his story. The reader can try to decide which life is happier: the light or the dark? What is "The Unbearable Lightness of Being?" It is the realization that, with no hope of knowing the right path from the wrong, there can be no wrong path. One is necessarily absolved of mistakes. The search for meaning in life leans towards the necessity of significance, which comes from a sense of weight. Are events forgiven in advance because they happen only once? But, is it also not unbearable that events only occur once as we can never go back and rectify our mistakes? Everyone wishes they could replay a past error; a lost opportunity, a lost love, a relationship that should not be. Is this not unbearable?! Is this not a weight we feel pressing down on us every day? The novel is an attempt to identify what makes us need companionship in life so badly, trying to understand the relationships between the conflicting desires that humans possess and act upon. What makes a man leave the w
            oman that he loves and is perfectly happy with and seek something intangible in the arms of a mistress? Why does the same man sacrifice everything he has - freedom, social status, and his life's work - only to go back to the same woman he absolutely had to leave before? Is the absence of any responsibilities and ties in life really a "lightness"? Could this absolute lightness turn into absolute emptiness and thus become unbearable at some point - a burden pulling us to the ground? It shows how vulnerable we are, and how miserable we can be made by our contradictory desires, aspirations and impulses. If you read deep enough into this novel you’ll repeatedly think, ‘he’s talking about me’. "How can life ever be a good teacher if there is only one of them to be lived? How can one perform life when the dress rehearsal for life is life?"

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            Published by Faber and Faber