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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Paperback – July 5, 2005
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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. As you live, you write the story of your life. You don't get the chance to "write" an alternative story; there are no comparisons for you. History is the same, he says, as light as individual human life. There is no possibility of comparison of chances either in history or life. These are only a small sample of the interesting thoughts and ideas Kundera mulls over. If that sort of book is your bag, you're going to love this one. The choice you make by reading it, may evolve into something completely different in your life, have totally different repercussions sooner or later. Will you recognize that ? After all, each book of any consequence you read leaves an imprint. THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING will definitely do so.
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.
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.