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on August 4, 2015
Read this during my stay in Prague. It has some stunningly beautiful passages in it, and the story is pretty good too. It maybe didn't live up to my expectations of it, but that is probably just a personal issue. I would recommend this to a friend (although if I were to recommend a book by a Czech author, I would probably recommend "Too Loud a Solitude" by Bohumil Hrabal over Kundera)
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VINE VOICEon August 19, 2009
Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of the Being is a pithy masterpiece. The author captures the essence of the 'being' of four or five chief characters. He manages to describe their thoughts and deeds, what weighs upon their souls, what rescues their selves from onerous existence, in an achingly beautiful, yet unobtrusive way. The infidelity & philandering of Tomas, the doubts and dreams of Tereza, the artistic idiosyncrasies of Sabrina and the intellectual myopia and indulgences of Franz are as engaging as the philosophical and historical notes that flow through the story.

The novel is a deep and defining study of humanity in 20th century, of our hopes and failings, of the moral and material needs and our capacity for being tormented by our pasts and passions. There are paragraphs and paragraphs of poetic beauty, and yet everything is written in the most simple, straightforward sentences. The description of Karenin, the dog owned by Tereza, is brilliant, especially in the final chapter of the book. Another favorite chapter was on "words misunderstood", for in the romance between beings belonging to two different pasts and two countries, where seemingly same words assume drastically different connotations.

This is a mature novel, meant for readers who can look beyond the surface. On surface this is novel laced with sexual content and contexts, a novel that describes the gimmicks of communist Russia and their stay in Czech country, a novel that spurns philosophical ramblings interwoven with discussion about the "sh** being a onerous theological problem". On surface the novel is story of infidelity. But deep down this is a novel that strikes chord with the intelligent reader on so many different levels, be it romance, ethics, interpretation, or our own complexities arising from our own unique pathways of life.

The novel weighed on me, confronted me with many issues, ideas and memories, and then at times, it released me from my own suffocating and smothering thoughts and experiences. I highly recommend this novel. If you enjoy Lawrence, Joyce and Gibran, be introduced to Kundera, who carries the torch of modernist writing ahead: and in what style!
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on June 20, 2012
I could not bear to put this down once I started.
This is a story that shouldn't be confused as anything other than the complete story of current and vintage humanity.I didn't want to read the whole thing in one sitting because then the fantastic, sensual, deep masterpiece would be finished. I had to put it down occasionally, only to be regurgitating the sentences in my mind and reviewing the concepts written in the book, in words I could never have come up with for things I have known for a long time. Could that be the sign of a brilliant writer- one who can beautifully and perfectly write things you have known for a long time but couldn't ever articulate?
My friend who recommended it was so in love with the book that she got a tattoo of a bowler hat in it.
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on November 11, 2015
This is an amazing and thought-provoking book. The writing is beautiful: articulate, philosophical, eloquent. It makes you think about relationships and love in general, and the various ways that people love. It examines without criticism or judgement. Certainly not for everyone---this will probably make some people uncomfortable---but I loved it.
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on August 4, 2015
A beautifully written story of love, based on the two main characters of Tomas and Tereza and the lesser characters of Sabina and Franz during the Russian invasion of Czechslovakia which began in 1968.
Kundera is a genius at getting below the skin of his characters, dissecting close to the bone so that human foibles become at least understandable if not totally acceptable. In this way the characters are real and likeable.Even though Tomas is a serial womanizer his love for Tereza and his other admirable qualities have the reader on his side.
This book will not be enjoyed by those who see the world as plain black and white but for those who love a philosophical discussion against the background of a true historical event you will not be sorry you read this book.
I have no hesitation in awarding five stars for this sensitive and heart warming book.
I absolutely related to the discussion on animals towards the end of the book and felt the grief of Tereza and Tomas at the loss of their beloved dog Kerenin.
Highly recommended for those who enjoy thoughtful and intelligent literature.
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on April 30, 2012
I found this book by accident. I was browsing for books to read for an independent study I am currently doing on Communism in Eastern Europe, and when I typed "communism, Eastern Europe" into Amazon, this book came up. From reading the summary, and seeing the overall pattern of people completely falling in love with this book, I decided to buy it.

That being said, I am beyond glad I did.

Kundera weaves together the stories of four people who are bound by common themes of love, sex, communism, loss, self-interest, self-worth and death, all within the framework of this idea of lightness and weight. At some points, Kundera will wander far away from the characters themselves and dive into a discussion about the existence of the self, the existence of God, the idea that things cannot repeat, and the politics of living in a time when your politics weren't a choice.

The words themselves that Kundera uses to tell the story are wonderful, and he repeats little motifs or phrases in a way that makes you appreciate them every time you see them printed again. I loved this book, and I loved the way that this book made me think. A fantastic read.
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on January 5, 2010
Over the holidays I finished reading this book, which is one of the finest existentialist novels of all time, originally published in French and then in the author's native Czech. This is another book I am ashamed to admit I didn't get around to reading until now. In this case, seeing the movie doesn't count.

The story, taking place in the Prague Spring of the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, tackles a lot of heavy subject matter, and the major theme, at least how I saw it, was oppression: the oppression of love, marriage, sex, family, war, religion, and the communist regime. Each of the main characters is oppressed in their own way by their own ideals, philosophies, and their own idiosyncratic view of the world. The way Kundera blends all these elements effortlessly into the lives of just a few interconnected people is sublime. Our story beings with Tomas, a Czech surgeon and intellectual. Tomas is an unrepentant womanizer. His philosophical view is that sex and love are two distinct affairs with little contradiction between them. His conquests are many, but each situation -- each woman -- has something unique to her womanhood, and that uniqueness is like a secret, one that can only be revealed during the act of sex. So by this perspective -- the devout appreciator of a woman's unique sexual identity -- his adulterous escapades have become justified explorations of humanity. He feels no love for these women; his only aim is to metaphorically dissect the essence of their being. Love he reserves for his wife, Tereza.

Tereza comes to Tomas a wounded bird, a symbolic image we see later in the story. She is a gentle soul, though neurotic to the enth degree from a childhood of oppression at the hands of her mother. She perceives herself as weak. She is ashamed of her body and feels disconnected and unworthy of her own soul, so she never condemns Tomas for his infidelities, instead preferring to suffer as a martyr in silence. Tereza is a special character in this story as she is the only character where we have full access to her subconscious mind. Kundera here allows us to psychoanalyze Tereza through her dreams, which are very disturbing. Equally disturbing is the dissident photojournalism Tereza becomes preoccupied with early in her marriage: Prostitutes and Russian tanks. Again here, the oppression of her marriage juxtaposed against the oppression of the occupying regime is portrayed very skilfully by Kundera. Tereza's oppression in life manifests itself in these photos and in dreams of death, actually dreams of execution, for she is no more than a burden, a weak pitiful soul and one who Tomas feels obligated to take care of. Tereza really doesn't understand that Tomas truly loves her, and this is one of many misunderstandings Kundera opens up for discussion in the novel. The most monumental of them all being when Tomas likens the Czech Communists to Oedipus. It was an unintentional comparison, but Tomas would still suffer greatly for it at the hands of the Communist propaganda machine. During the ensuing interrogations, we get a true taste of Tomas' convictions, and in that, we the reader, can find it within our boundaries to put our faith in Tomas' love for Tereza, no matter his actions to the contrary.

Then we have Sabina -- Tomas' favourite mistress -- the artistic anarchist who finds satisfaction in the act of betrayal. She has declared war on everything in her life that she considers "kitsch" including her privileged puritan ancestry and Socialists. To Tomas, Sabina is the singing, soaring bird of freedom, and Tereza, the injured crow on the verge of death. For Tomas, Sabina is the manifest expression of one's subconscious desires, which is in stark contrast to his own nature. Tomas seeks to expose in others that which he cannot express in himself, so in Sabina, he finds the self he will never truly know. This self-discovery by proxy plays out again in the interactions Tomas has later with his estranged son.

Our fourth character is Franz: Sabina's lover after Tomas. Franz is a learned man, a professor and an idealist to self-destructive proportions. Sadly, Franz falls in love with Sabina, not for who she really is but for what he idealizes her to be: a romantically tragic Czech dissident. Sabina is not a liberal nor is she even one iota romantically inclined, but this doesn't stop Franz from placing her on a pedestal. How could he not? Franz's wife and daughter are social sycophants, and his life outside of Sabina disgusts him, so Sabina makes logical sense to him. He is a kind and compassionate man, but a life of books and academia, sans all visceral experience, have left him devoid of the great kindness and the great compassion he aspires to, not to mention: the great love. Shame really, and the reader can feel for Franz when the ideal comes crashing down around him. During a sexual epiphany, he feels confident that Sabina has fallen in love with him as well. He promptly confesses his indiscretions to his wife and leaves her only to find that Sabina had already made up her mind to leave him, and leave she did -- disappeared from his life in a breath. Franz takes another lover -- a homely student of his -- although he continues to pine for Sabina, and he proceeds to live as an outcast, fallen from grace until he decides on a whim for the first time in his life to actually participate in a political march from Thailand to Cambodia. Here he finds that the courage of his convictions is nothing more than fallacy. Here, the man of long wanderings will return to where he never felt he belonged. A man of delusion returns to reality.

Lastly, and my personal favourite character in the entire novel: Karenin, the faithful canine companion to Tomas and Tereza. This part of the story was really heart wrenching, and I fell to tears many times over the course of the Karenin chapters. Kundera talks a lot about religion in these final pages, specifically man's dominion over beast, and he makes it clear that our translation of that proclamation is a bit misguided. The beasts were not thrown out of Eden. So, Karenin, to me, represented true freedom, purity of spirit, and the opposite of oppression. Much like Winnie the Poo, Karenin was happiness in life simplified: routine, devotion, and unconditional love without selfish motivation or personal prejudice. Tomas and Tereza both, in the end and in their own ways, come to realize Karenin's significance, as will the reader, no doubt. "Here lies Karenin." His tombstone says. "He gave birth to two rolls and a bee."

One can appreciate this novel on so many levels, technically for the non-linear plotline, the various points of view represented -- political, theological, and philosophical -- and the third person omniscient narrative that is biased to the core so we can appreciate the direct interjection by the narrator who never once attempts to hide that he is the author. At the heart of it, it is an essay about the human condition, but its scope is much broader in that it dissects, much as Tomas would have, the unique effects various forms of oppression have on that condition. Kundera's passion for his characters is duly noted in one of many interjections by the author directly into the narrative. In addition to the very human story of relationships gone astray, we are allowed the privilege of experiencing that moment in Czech history where the country had lost its will and its identity. We are allowed to experience it not through the eyes of a journalist or a tourist, but through the eyes of a true witness. And that is why I love foreign translations. It's not just about different scenery. It's about a connection, and in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, readers should have no trouble making a connection, cultural or otherwise.
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on October 31, 2007
The thing I love about this book is that Kundera presents so many ideas, draws from so many other great works and incorporates them seamlessly into a beautiful story. Like, Newton, he stands on the shoulders of giants. As a philosophy major, I particularly enjoyed all the philosophical ideas he manage to incorporate. I took 14 classes in all areas of Philosophy, and Kundera uses ideas from about 9 of those classes.
If you're not well read in philosophy, don't let this turn you off. Kundera is not overly esoteric, and I doubt many people who read this book are familiar with all his ideas (a lot of the literary theory eluded me). Even so, Kundera's novel has merit in its accurate and astute treatment of love and its lyrical prose.
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on August 8, 2012
Every now and then I read a book that effects how I see the world, The Unberable Lightness of Being is one of them. An other example of this is "Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Matenence. Kundera is a philosopher for sure. I found myself taking notes and stoping to reread often. Yet the book is written in clear understandable language. Kundera is not an intellectual snob.
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on December 8, 2013
This book is wonderful-- painful, insightful, philosophical, and thought-provoking. Kundera's philosophical training is apparent throughout, though he does not always make explicit references to the particular philosophers he is drawing upon. Freed from the constraints of the type of writing that is acceptable within academic philosophy, he is able to develop themes such as mind-body dualism and the tension between the lived experiences of contingency and necessity in the richness that resonates with everyday experiences.
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