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Immortality (Perennial Classics) Paperback – October 20, 1999

4.4 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Death and immortality are the interlocking themes of the author's first novel since his 1984 bestseller, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Kundera, himself a prominent character in the circular narrative, here contrasts the troubled, comic relationships among Goethe; his wife, Christiane; and Goethe's much younger friend Bettina von Arnim to the modern-day triangle of three imaginary Parisians: Paul; his wife, Agnes; and Agnes's sister Laura. In response to her father's death, Agnes confronts her own life and discovers that while her marriage has been happy, she has never known passion; Laura, a divorcee, has never experienced the love that goes beyond sex. The object of both sisters' affections is Paul and it becomes clear that their struggle over him will result in a victor and a loser. Kundera offers brilliant meditations on late-20th-century life, but the novel, combining essays, narrative and biographical material, lacks the dramatic tension of his earlier works. Nevertheless his astute observations on topics ranging from the media to Ernest Hemingway in themselves render this work interesting and significant. 100,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; BOMC selection; first serial to the New Yorker.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Ingenious witty provocative and formidably intelligent, both a pleasure and a challenge to the reader." -- Jonathan Yardley, "Washington Post Book World""Inspired Kundera's most brilliantly imagined novel...A book that entrances, beguiles and charms us from first page to last."-- Susan Miron, "Cleveland Plain Dealer""Brilliantly mordant...beautifully translated...strong and mesmerizing." -- "New York Times"

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Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; 1st HarperPerennial Ed edition (October 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060932384
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060932381
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This was the first Kundera I read, as a result of a friends recomendation, and I was extremely immpressed.
Mr Kundera creates a novel of that rare species here: essentially I am unable to classify it, yet it made me think more deeply than usual and consider the entire world in an entirely different light when I managed to drag myself away from its pages.
The novel opens with Kundera himself witnessing an old woman making a gesture which he believes belies her age: quickly Kundera considers the fact that gestures themselves are immortal: many people have lived throughout history but they have utilized relatively few gestures.
Surprisingly, Kundera weaves an entire character out of this simple gesture, invents friends, relatives, thoughts and feelings for her, and eventually manages to intertwine her life with his own, projecting himself into his own novel, although so subtely do the two stories interlock that when we suddenly realise what has occured slow and joyful understanding blossoms upon our faces.
Along the way, Kundera uses the tale of the great German poet Goethe and the woman Bettina Von Arnim as a kind of historical paradigm for his modern tragedy, paints us a brief but fantastical picture of Hemingway and Goethe conversing beyond this worlds boundaries and, of course, muses upon the nature of Immortality, as well as tackling serious world issues with characteristic Kundera informality.
Kundera is witty and profound: many of the social and cultural observations included in this book made me laugh out loud.
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Format: Paperback
First of all - don't read this if you haven't read either "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" or "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." "Immortality" is more difficult than both of them and should therefore be read later; but not only that, the allusions to some of Kundera's earlier ideas (the border, the unbearable lightness of being) will missed if you read this first.

Second - how much you put into will be how much you get. Don't read this as a novel; read it as a treasure buried under 350 pages of prose - you'll find many nuggets, but it will take work to grasp them and they won't combine to form a fully-formed unified slab of gold.

Third - it's not really about immortality. It's about life, existence, and so on - the essential human themes.

Fourth - it suffers from Kundera's fatal flaw, his refusal to use the literary technique of a book's climax to make the sharpest point. The effect on the reader (and the point of literature, in my opinion, is to make the largest possible effect on the reader) would be much greater if the ending of part five ended the actual novel. I have nothing against Kundera briefly giving away the end in the middle of the novel, which he does in "Being" as well. It's a technique that he uses very well. But how much more so if the characters' ending came at the *book's* ending!

Finally - I'm not sure which rating to give to "Immortality." I first put 4 stars, as it has serious flaws (namely, it doesn't truly form exactly one work and the experimentalism does not always work - put at the climax where it belongs!). But I'd be kidding myself if 20% percent of the books I read are better than "Immortality," I think. I'll end up giving it five, but with caution. The more I reread it, which I have done recently, the more I like it. Five it is, barely. However, I think I hold Kundera to a higher standard - he has such talent; he could use it better.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you like straightforward books with straightforward plots, straightforward characters and straightforward beginnings, storylines and conclusions, this book may not for you.
The novel takes place in the present, in the past, in the afterlife & in the surreal world of Kundera's imagination. The work has several different seemingly separate stories that Kundera somehow weaves into a coherent whole. We meet people that we are led to believe actually exist who talk with the author during "intermissions" of the novel. Later, we learn that Kundera was discussing topics with the characters in his novel.
The book has sundry marvelous sections which brood over just about every intellectual topic associated with immortality. We see an eloborate (although fictionalized) glimpse of Goethe's historical meeting with Napoleon. We get an impression of how many great artists look upon their craft as mementos of their immortality. We even get an answer to the $60,000 question: WHAT would happen if Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Earnest Hemingway met up in the afterlife? (Wow! What a thought!)
As I mentioned earlier, this book does not have the standard structure of most other novels. That said, however, it was quite enjoyable to read. It did not go off the deep end of Faulkneresque stream-of-consciousness psycho-babble. An excellent and entertaining postmodern effort.
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Format: Paperback
These days, it's hard to come across a book which is really innovative, since all sorts of experiments have been conducted in literature. This is one original work. It is a beautiful novel that the reader writes along with the author. It's kind of "interactive", just like some by Machado de Assis and Calvino, extremely different authors. Starting from the gesture of a mature woman, Kundera invents fictional characters who interact with other characters, supposedly real, as well as with the author himself. These characters are the excuse Kundera uses to conduct an acute reflection on our age and, in particular, on our cult of technology and image. Besides Agnes (the spirit) and Laura (the body), other memorable characters are Rubens, Agnes's ocasional lover who is sad and melancholic, and Prof. Avenarius, for whom the world is only an object for diversion. This novel transforms all aspects of the modern world into metaphysical issues, and its form is polyphonic: the story is alternated with that of Goethe and Bettina Brentano, which serves to explain and reinforce some reflections by Kundera. There's also a digression about the emergence of "homo sentimentalis" in Europe, as well as a witty dialogue between the spirits of Goethe and Hemingway (interesting, isn't it?). The novel is extremely inspiring, it's beautiful in spite of some paternal and lecturizing passages.
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