Customer Review

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book for a different cultural perspective., March 7, 2007
This review is from: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Hardcover)
Wars and invasions have always had heavy repercussions for private individuals, no matter what time period or what countries are involved. But taking the Milan Kundera text, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I got a firsthand look at what the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia might have been like.

Historically, Americans have had a binary outlook at the two superpowers post WWII, Russia and the US. Americans generally felt that America was good, while Russia was evil. In terms of Kundera, America might have been described as light, and Russia as being heavy.

Kundera himself doesn't really invalidate America's viewpoint on Russia, and if anything he solidifies it by showing the crucial scene with Tereza and the "engineer" she met at the bar. After she slept with him, she started reflecting on the whole encounter, from the underage boy at the bar, and man haggling her about serving him alcohol, to the way the engineer's flat was laid out and what books he had in his bookcase.

The paranoia Russia caused within the daily lives of Czech citizens could be felt by Tereza wondering if the engineer was in fact a spy and informant for the government. Had he taken pictures when he said he was going to make coffee? Was he talking to someone? Would the pictures be released to Tomas? This is one of the first times we really get a feel for what hysteria of the time might have been like.

Obviously I wasn't around in 1968, nor have I ever been to Czechoslovakia, but Kundera enlightened me to the heightened tensions that quite possibly existed there. Tereza wasn't alone in feeling the heaviness of Russia's presence. In another scene, Tomas, after writing his letter comparing Russia to Oedipus, was forced to make a retracting statement nullifying the opinions he expressed in his letter. Taking the high moral road and refusing to pen the pacifying statement, he was forced to leave his job as a surgeon. Clearly freedom of speech wasn't too high on the list of things to uphold at that time and place. It is sad to think that his whole way of life as a surgeon, his passion and purpose, was abruptly changed by the powers in the government.

While this story was fiction, it seemingly contains traces of metafiction, as the author himself left the country, just as many of his main characters did. And just as Heraclites said you can't step in the same river twice, no historical event can be exactly the same as any other historical event. Even so, there can be parallels along the riverbed of history. Life isn't so simple as to say with complete certainty that Russia was evil, or heavy. Like a basket of feathers and bricks, it was both heavy and light. But no matter how you portray it, or from which country or time you present it, occupation, at least from the pint of view of the overtaken, will always see the invaders as oppressive and ruthless.

But to really see the feeling Kundera evokes, you must read this book. In the same way Tomas "penetrates" all the different women, so did Russia "penetrate" Czechoslovakia. Great book for a different cultural perspective.
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