Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

"Loves are like empires: when the idea they are founded on crumbles, they, too, fade away."
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is the complex story of a womanizing man married to a woman with a dog, who still maintains his mistress, who also happens to have her own lover. The novel takes place in Prague during the Soviet occupation of the 1960s. It is the fourth book I have read by Kundera, all in the last year, following Ignorance, Life is Elsewhere and Identity. I will say that in terms of clear storyline and ability to follow the novel chronologically, I think The Unbearable Lightness of Being is fairly consistent with Kundera's other works, and if anything I found it easier to follow. That said, it's certainly not straightforward.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is incredibly interesting from a philosophical perspective. Kundera talks to his readers, he doesn't deny that this is fiction,
"As I have pointed out before, characters are not born like people, of woman; they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about. But isn’t it true that an author can write only about himself?"
The novel is full of contemplations on life and death, love and sex. It is incredibly quotable. However the odd thing is that considering I wrote down nearly every second sentence as something that I wanted to remember, I didn't actually fall in love with the book. Kundera as a writer is somebody whose work I find more interesting intellectually than I do emotionally, and this was definitely the case in The Unbearable Lightness of Being where not a single character, except maybe the dog, was likable. It also may have been the specific mindframe I was in when reading the novel, but I could never really find myself invested in the story and it took me about a month to finish. It was actually surprising to me that it took this long because I devoured the first two of seven parts but at that point I became a little tired of the whole thing. A bit tired of the philosophical rambling and a bit tired of constantly being reminded that this is an exercise rather than a story when I just wanted to loose myself in the world Kundera kept reminded me it didn't exist.

I will definitely be picking up Kundera again in the future, I just have to give him a break and make sure I am in the right state of mind for his specific type of writing. Because when he's good, as he was in Identity, he's really good. And I know there are different, probably better, ways to look at this novel than I am but the mood we are in when we read something has such an important role in our response to it and in this case it seemed no matter when picked up the book, I just wasn't in the mood for it. I really do love the way Kundera words things, the way he captures and crystallizes human motivations and desires so clearly but as a novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being just didn't quite work for me.

Release Date: February 15th, 2011
Pages: 272
: Ebook/Personal Copy
Buy the Book


  1. I've seen people mentioning this book before but I didn't know anything about it or the author. Thanks for the great review, now I'm interested in checking it out further!

  2. I just read The Unbearable Lightness of Being for my book group last month, and this was my reaction nearly exactly: "Kundera as a writer is somebody whose work I find more interesting intellectually than I do emotionally." I didn't connect emotionally at all with the book until the last section, with Karenin. Nice review!


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