Milan Kundera – The Unberable Lightness of Being

Author: Milan Kundera
Title:  The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Published: 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row
Length: 314 pages
Genre: Philosophical literature
Target age: Adult
Why I picked it up: On my TBR list
Rating: 4.5 stars
Challenges: Global | 100+
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

It appears I’m on a bit of a philosophical, deep-thinking, big picture, meaning of life kick in regards to the type of books I feel like reading lately. (I’m going to look for some Kafka at the library tomorrow). I started this book a few weeks ago, couldn’t really get into it, but I picked it up again a few days ago, thought of it in a different light and devoured it. I am enjoying exploring writing styles that are very different from what I had become accustomed to reading and content that really pushes the boundaries of how I think and perceive ideas. That summarizes my overall satisfied experience with this novel; I’ll delve more into something of the notes I made while reading this book.

This is a novel mostly about three things (in opinion, the most important themes for me, etc, etc.): types of love, what it means to be human and revolution. Which, of course, are subjects full of ideas that are very fascinating for me to explore. I liked how each topic was delved into, providing different perspectives from the views of four different characters. The setting and time period of the novel (Czechoslovakia around the time of Warsaw Pact invasion [a topic of which I now have some knowledge about due to reading this novel and then looking up the events on Wikipedia]) provided a good backdrop in/on which to explore these ideas.

It took me awhile to get a hold of the narration style. At first I was really confused, then I thought maybe I understood, but I didn’t want to assume, so I kept on being confused until I could clarify for sure that who I thought was narrating was narrating (wow, this must be the most convoluted sentence I’ve written since NaNo XP). ANYHOW. The narrator, I eventually grasped, is the author of the novel. However, I wasn’t sure if this was intended to be Kundera or if ‘the author of the novel’ is a character in him/herself. It’s an interesting thought/POV, one I haven’t encountered much (or probably ever) and one I will definitely think about when I reread this book. An excerpt (bits like this aren’t too common, but I absolutely love them, being a writerly type myself):

I have known all these situations, I have experienced them myself, yet none of them has given rise to the person my curriculum vitae and I represent. The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented.

 My last little note is on chronology. Really, it just jumps all over the place but it in a very orderly and connected way. I wouldn’t even really be thinking about it if it weren’t for the one event that is mentioned every now and then throughout the story and that is Tomas and Tereza’s deaths (this isn’t really a spoiler, there’s a statement at one point that just throws this fact at the reader but I can’t remember where it was. It was in a chapter about Sabina and the fact that Tereza and Tomas die together in a car accident is just thrown in with some other facts. This is also mentioned in couple of other places long before the actual event takes place. If I was writing about this book for an English class, that would be something I would probably pick apart and analyze but honestly, I would have to read the book again and make note of the times that incident crops up to better understand it. It felt, not awkward, but not natural, and I feel like it was there for a reason. Another something to look for when I reread this book, I suppose!


  • I enjoyed this one, too – but it's definitely a "you have to be in the right mood for it" kind of read.

    Incidentally, my favorite band is an Indie-Folk band by the name of Bright Eyes, and they (he) wrote a beautiful song about this book, called "Tereza and Tomas."

  • Thanks for the comment, Adam! (I wish now I had finished writing this before I posted it ^^;) I will have to look up the song, it sounds like something I would enjoy.