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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Paperback – February, 1988

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Editorial Reviews


Novel by Milan Kundera, first published in 1984 in an English translation and in a French translation as L'Insoutenable Legerete de l'etre. In 1985 the work was published in the original Czech as Nesnesitelna lehkost byti, but it was banned in Czechoslovakia until 1989. Set against the background of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, the novel concerns a young Czech physician who substitutes a series of erotic adventures over which he thinks he can maintain control for becoming involved in his country's politics, where he feels he can have no power or freedom. Inevitably, he is drawn into Czechoslovakia's political unrest. In a parallel vein, he is forced to choose among the women with whom he is involved. --The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

Language Notes

Text: English, Czech (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins (February 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060914653
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060914653
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (401 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

256 of 272 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on March 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is either a book of philosophy masquerading as a novel, or a novel about the lives of four or five characters with pretensions to be a book of philosophy. Either way, it's an amazing work. Since it is well-known and no doubt, well-reviewed, I might not be able to say anything new here. Kundera deals with his characters in a rather sketchy way, using them to pose a number of questions, rather than to go into great psychological depth. Yet, even there, the characters Tomas and Tereza do come through well. Their moods and motivations, even their dreams, hold a reader's attention. A couple of the others, Sabina and Franz, maybe Franz' wife, are very light indeed. Kundera is interested in sex and love, in the fact that they tie people down, in the fact that they are so fickle, so gosssamer light, yet so important. In a time when ideology and/or political oppression create craziness or stupidity and the common sense of daily life is overthrown---as in post-1968 Czechoslovakia and maybe pre-Gulf War II America---love and sex are more or less what is left for people to hang on to. Kundera also ponders the choices that people make, and the extremely haphazard way these choices come about, based perhaps on endless strings of coincidence.
This is not a novel long on plot. Rather it is a vehicle for some very intelligent musings. When living under oppressive rulers "is it better to shout and thereby hasten the end, or to keep silent and gain thereby a slower death ?" What is the nature of love ? Have you ever read the philosophy of excrement or kitsch ? You can find them here. Man is a cow parasite, he tells us, (though he's probably talking about a certain percent of humanity only) and goes on to say that attitude towards animals is a fundamental moral test of Man. We've failed.
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84 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Eddy on September 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
This novel represents the pinnacle of the career of a very talented and relevant writer. Kundera is a writer who can mix philosophy with satire, and humour with very accurate social observations.

In 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' Kundera tries to determine whether our actions on this earth have significance and therefore weight, or whether our actions have no ramifications and are therefore light and are dead in advance. The question he deems more important however, is which of these two situations is preferrable. Should we attach importance and weight to our actions, or should we live a life without consequence, doing whatever we want, whenever we want and to whomever we want.

Thomas' life is the perfect example of a life lived without weight. He slips from one affair to another without a second thought because he cannot stand the 'ball and chain' effect of staying with one woman. There are those who would see Tomas as a callous womaniser, but for Kundera he is the perfect tool with which to demonstrate the "lighter" way of living. The doctrine of "Einmal ist keinmal" is one that torments Tomas. The idea that a life lived once may as well have never been lived at all, and he will not get to return to test his love for Tereza against his love for other women. Although Tomas feels restricted by this situation, he ultimately grows to accept and even enjoy the lightness of being.

While Tomas battles with lightness, Tereza battles with weight. She is worn down and frustrated by Tomas' philandering, and of the two she is the one who is much more in need of embracing lightness. Through the events of the story and the shifting attitudes and conceptions of the characters, both of them end up coming to the same conclusion with respect to lightness and weight. The debate over these two options is after all the general thrust of this magnificent novel.
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92 of 102 people found the following review helpful By oh_pete on June 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
The world of Milan Kundera's writing is a special place. Long an admirer of his "Book of Laughter and Forgetting," I only recently sat back and read this marvelous novel of love and obsession, lust and oppression. "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is primarily the tale of a Prague physician, Tomas, who escapes with his wife Tereza to Zurich after the Russian tanks roll over their country in 1968. When his infidelities drive her to leave him and return to Prague he follows her, knowing there will be no other chance to escape Communism. An editorial Tomas has published in an anti-Communist newspaper loses him his license to practice medicine and he soon becomes a window washer. Much to his surprise he's happier for a while in a job he doesn't have to think about ("it's a terrific relief to realize you're free, free of all missions"). Meanwhile, Tereza continues to play the martyr as his philandering increases. The reader is left to wonder whether it is weakness or strength that keeps them together, and how much the lack of political freedom affects the way men and women love each other. Kundera's narrator explores these and other vital questions of being, sometimes with gentle prodding, and others with sudden incisiveness.
Writtten in 1984, five years before the Velvet Revolution would draw back the Iron Curtain from Kundera's Czech homeland, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is both a product of its era and a timeless work of art. It makes us wonder whether life is difficult because it is heavy, or because the fleetingness of it makes us too light to really make a mark. This novel of heavy concepts is written with such a light touch that the mark it makes cannot be denied. The narrator brings up the German phrase "Einmal ist keinmal": whatever happens once may as well not have happened at all-unlike many other books we read and forget as soon as we finish the last page, this one sticks, even as it cries out to be re-read.
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