Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I hadn't planned on buying this book. It just happened. I was in the bookshop one day, looking through all the titles and suddenly noticed the book in question. I had heard of it, but did not know exactly what it was about. I took it from the shelf and was pleasantly surprised by the cover! So, after reading the description on the back cover, decided to buy it. Here I am now, reviewing it.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
First published: by Harper & Row in 1984 (This edition by Faber & Faber in 2000)

Description: (from
In this novel - a story of irreconcilable loves and infidelities - Milan Kundera addresses himself to the nature of twentieth-century 'Being' In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and by fortuitous events, a world in which everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. We feel, says the novelist, 'the unbearable lightness of being' - not only as the consequence of our private acts but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine. Juxtaposing Prague, Geneva, Thailand and the United States, this masterly novel encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, and embraces, it seems, all aspects of human existence. It offers a wide range of brilliant and amusing philosophical speculations and it descants on a variety of styles.

I found The Unbearable Lightness of Being to be one of the most 'different' books I have ever read. And that's actually saying a lot. I have read books ranging from chick-lit to children's books and from maths to philosophy, finding them all enjoyable in a very different way. This book was as enjoyable as it was sad. Throughout the book, you come to see all the different decisions that each character has to take and the reasons they had for making that decision. You actually get to experience their 'Beings' through their own eyes.

The book is split up into 7 parts and each part consists of quite a few short chapters. The whole book is only 300 pages long, but it took me ages to finish. I found that it was one of those books that you have to read slowly in order not to miss anything. Even though it took me ages to read, it wasn't at all tiring. I just wanted to keep on reading and reading until I reached the end, something I - of course - could not do, due to my other responsibilities. But if I could've, I would've.

It tells the stories of three people (or maybe four) and a dog, all interconnected, including the decisions each one of them makes and which influence both other characters (in some cases). It is set in the time when the Czech Republic was under Russian occupation, as well as the years preceding the occupation, but not necessarily having Prague as a backdrop for each part of the story.

All in all I enjoyed the book immensely and think that it is classified as ''one of those books that you have to read at some point in your life''. Highly recommended. Even though I found the main character to be a bit of an ''idiot'', for reasons you will understand when you read it yourself. And for all those reasons:

Rating: 9/10 (I don't know if I will ever give a book a perfect 10... Well, you never know! But probably not... I'm not too comfortable giving out absolutely perfect scores on books...)

Author: Milan Kundera is a Czech author who has lived in exile in France since 1975, thus leading to him having written books in both languages. He was a reformist, committed to reforming Czech Communism, which led initially to a complete ban on the circulation of his works in Czechoslovakia and then, a stripping of his Czechoslovak citizenship in 1979. His most notable works include ''The Joke'' and ''The Book of Laughter and Forgetting'', both of which were published before ''The Unbearable Lightness of Being'' and are quite political (compared to his later works). 

Some of his other books include:
''Life is Elsewhere''
''Slowness'' and
''Ignorance'' (his latest novel, published in 2000).
He has also written a series of short stories, which are included in the collection ''Laughable Loves''.
Here are some extra pages, for those who want to find out more!
Milan Kundera on Wikipedia

Counts as Book #7 in my 100 Books In A Year Challenge!

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