The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
I was so enthralled with Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting I moved right on to The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Isn’t that the greatest compliment you can pay an author?
I have come to the conclusion that all Milan Kundera’s books leave the reader feeling unsettled, sad, introspective, and curious for more. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is philosophically complex, touching on topics like the soul versus the body, love versus sex, fate versus circumstance, and rational communication versus absurd miscommunication. Kundera expounds on Nietzsche’s theory of “eternal return”- a human’s heaviest burden- and the Greek Philosopher Parmenides’ theory that lightness is positive and weight negative.
Kundera explains… “the heaviest of burdens is an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.”
The questions he poses, “What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
Kundera builds his plot around the love story of a couple from Czechoslovakia… Tomas and Tereza, one of Tomas’s old lovers Sabrina, and Sabrina’s new lover Franz. And along with all the other complexities of thought, Kundera adds a touch of politics, covering a period of time in the 1960s that included the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Russia and anti-American involvement in the Vietnam war including international anti-war protests in Cambodia.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a book of contrasts. Lightness versus heaviness. The lightness of conformity and heaviness of individuality. The lightness of non-commitment and the heaviness of physical and emotional attachment. Even Kundera’s writing illustrates contrast- simple and clear- yet poetic and profound. He plays with words, and phrases like the German phrase “es muss sein” and the slangy word “kitsch”, schooling the reader on interpretation and how it relates to real life situations. His books are the type that I set aside with the hopes of re-reading someday. Weighty. and absolutely wonderful.
All contents © 2015 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.