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The Unbearable Lightness Of Being: A Novel [Paperback]

Milan Kundera
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 19 2009
In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera tells the story of a young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing and one of his mistresses and her humbly faithful lover. This magnificent novel juxtaposes geographically distant places; brilliant and playful reflections; and a variety of styles to take its place as perhaps the major achievement of one of the world's truly great writers.

A young woman is in love with a successful surgeon, a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing. His mistress, a free-spirited artist, lives her life as a series of betrayals-while her other lover, earnest, faithful, and good, stands to lose everything because of his noble qualities. In a world where lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and fortuitous events, and everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence we feel "the unbearable lightness of being."

A major achievement from one of the world's truly great writers, Milan Kundera's magnificent novel of passion and politics, infidelity and ideas, encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, illuminating all aspects of human existence.


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The Unbearable Lightness Of Being: A Novel + One Hundred Years Of Solitude + Love in the Time of Cholera (Oprah's Book Club)
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Review

"Brilliant . . . A work of high modernist playfulness and deep pathos." (This text refers to the Paperback edition) --Janet Malcolm, New York Review of Books

"Kundera has raised the novel of ideas to a new level of dreamlike lyricism and emotional intensity." (This text refers to the Paperback edition) --Jim Miller, Newsweek

"Kundera is a virtuoso . . . A work of the boldest mastery, originality, and richness." (This text refers to the Paperback edition) --Elizabeth Hardwick, Vanity Fair

Jonathan Oliver employs a husky-voiced tone that proves the right match for this darkish story, one that requires of listeners a dollop of patience. Set first in Czechoslovakia, then in Switzerland, Kundera's story tells the sometimes laborious story of a womanizing Czech surgeon forced to flee the Russian invasion and take on menial roles, giving his passion for the flesh a slighly different perspective, as he is no longer a doctor but just a window-washer. His relationship with this current female-of-choice, the interesting and puzzling Tereza, is at the center of the novel. Oliver is good, very good, pausing with great effect, having just the right amount of low-key drama and contemplative musing in his narration. He's a good fit for a book that not everyone will like, but those who stay the course will generally be pleased they did. (This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition) --T.H.(c), AudioFile, Portland, Maine

From the Back Cover

A young woman is in love with a successful surgeon, a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing. His mistress, a free-spirited artist, lives her life as a series of betrayals—while her other lover, earnest, faithful, and good, stands to lose everything because of his noble qualities. In a world where lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and fortuitous events, and everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence we feel "the unbearable lightness of being."

A major achievement from one of the world's truly great writers, Milan Kundera's magnificent novel of passion and politics, infidelity and ideas, encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, illuminating all aspects of human existence.


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First Sentence
The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum! Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not for everyone, but I liked it Dec 2 2001
Format:Paperback
I had no idea what I was getting into when I bought this book. But it turned out that I enjoyed it, and although it was more tedious to read towards the end, I would recommend it to anyone who can speed read.
To me this book was written as one incredibly long train of thought. The train itself breaks off into other smaller trains of thought, but it always goes back to the principle story: that of Tomas and Tereza. While Kundera may turn off the reader who doesn't enjoy straight story-telling, he does tell a story here. It's not just a book of random musings and incoherent philosophizing.
That said, the stories of "Unbearable.."'s characters are simple enough. Tomas is a philanderer, torn between his lifestyle and his love for Tereza, who kind of fell into his life by chance. Tereza is his wife, who is tortured by his infidelity but cannot leave him. Other more minor characters include Sabina, a mistress of Tomas, and Franz, another married lover of Sabina.
These four characters are Kundera's chosen examples of the human experience. He reveals their inner desires and motives, and otherwise tells their psychological stories along with their real-life stories. They each have "issues", as does everyone in this world. But it's interesting how their personal philosophies, having been shaped by both their human experience and their intrinsic individuality, are so different from each other's. This in return shapes the experiences they have with each other. Tereza and Tomas lived for so long together, yet they never really thought alike. And because of this, they lived totally separate lives.
That, in full, is my take on the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A flawed masterpiece of philosophical fiction Dec 28 2003
Format:Paperback
Milan Kundera is an intellectual author of several books of fiction and poetry, plays, and essays. He is even considered by some to be a philosopher. So if you are looking for light reading or erotic literature, then look elsewhere. Even though it is a fairly easy read and it does have a lot of sex, you will be disappointed with this novel. If, however, you are a thinker who loves ideas, a student of philosophy, or a fan of philosophical fiction, then this "book of ideas" is a must read.
In this book "lightness" is living superficially, uncommitted, and selfishly without purpose. Weight or "heaviness" is living committed to and loving a spouse, burdened with adherence to and sacrifice for principles that are greater than oneself. In this novel Kundera tells a story of how living a life of lightness is inevitably unbearable, untenable, and that in order to find meaning and peace and happiness in this life, we must take on the weight of commitment and purpose outside ourselves.
The philosophy of the novel is essentially existential, and the reader will find many of its concepts operating in the lives of the novel's characters: Life is a series of unique, chance events that the individual experiences in isolation (even though surrounded by people, no one can truly understand the experience of another in the same way); that the universe is indifferent; and that human existence is unexplainable and essentially meaningless; the importance of freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's actions. But there is a lot more in this novel than just these few concepts - much, much more.
I say this novel is flawed because it seems to me to cry out for more rewriting and editing. As it is I call it "near great".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So much better than the movie May 2 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I saw the movie which was made from this novel, many, many years ago, and while I absolutely loved it, I thought it was about an hour too long. Hence, my hesitation with tackling the novel. But a curious thing happend, for what I found was that the book actually "seemed" shorter. Go figure. I love the story, whether it is the film version or the written word, and Kundera's telling of it is remarkable. That said, I would recommende the book more so than the movie. Perhaps my reason for so highly praising the novel is that I was able to put it down, whereas with the movie, I was not (I saw it in an "arts" theatre many years ago.) My point is this--it's a very good read and you should check it out.
Also recommended: McCrae's BARK OF THE DOGWOOD
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Unbearable Lightness of Being May 30 2004
Format:Paperback
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an interesting mix of social commentary, history lesson and relationship examination all rolled into one novel that is told, not by a narrator, but by Kundera himself.
The lightness of being is at the focal point of this novel. We are first presented with a brief essay-like section on whether life is a light or a heavy experience, and if it differs for others. He uses historical figures as evidence as to the weight of life, some, like Parmenides, consider life to be a light burden, as 'lightness' is positive and so is being alive, and Nietzsche appears to agree, though for very different reasons. Throughout the novel, Kundera takes over the narration to discuss, contrast and compare the actions of the characters as regards to the philosophy of great men, trying to determine whether life is in fact light or heavy. The conclusion he seems to come to is that it is up to the person themselves to decide, and after that, to decide which out of light or heavy is the negative aspect.
In terms of story, most of the activity centres around Tomas and Tereze, who met through a bizarre sequence of activities. In another show of polarity, Tereze considers these amazing coincidences proof that they should be together forever, whereas as Tomas thinks it means that their relationship will be as fleeting and ephemeral as the chance of them ever meeting. We also get to see on of Tomas' (many) mistresses, Sabine, although the details of her life are presented more to understand Tomas.
About halfway through the novel, we are taken on an excursion into the way life was in Czechoslovakia, with the threat of the Russians and communism, and the way people were deluded.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book
A well-written, beautiful book. Kundera brings you into his world of complicated love, the meaning of life and how the decisions we make affect those around us.
Published 3 months ago by fionah
5.0 out of 5 stars Becoming Somebody Other Than Our Old Selves
This is the story of Tomaz and Tereza as it unfolds in the modern state of Czechoslovakia over three generations. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Ian Gordon Malcomson
5.0 out of 5 stars great
i really enjoyed this book, it's one of those ones you have to think about. the story follows two couples, tomas and tereza and sabina and franz. Read more
Published on Aug. 2 2008 by elfdart
3.0 out of 5 stars Love Story as a Philosophy Text Book
This book is a heavy read. It is written really well, but Kundera's style is very different than most authors. Read more
Published on Aug. 26 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Over-rated, but not bad. Typical Kundera.
Anyone who has read any Kundera knows what to expect - narrative, history, and philosophical musings mixed into an "experimental" novel. Read more
Published on July 12 2004 by Zafiro Blue
5.0 out of 5 stars Tragic, Insightful
Anyone with a background in philosophy might do a double take upon reading the title of this book; "Being" is not typically thought of as being unbearably light but as heavy. Read more
Published on May 17 2004 by benjamin
4.0 out of 5 stars A true novel of ideas
Let there be a space forever reserved for this book in that most exclusive of literary categories - the novel of ideas. Read more
Published on May 13 2004 by Matthew Krichman
5.0 out of 5 stars Kundera's Darkest Book
I really enjoyed reading THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, though it wasn't anything like I thought it would be. Read more
Published on April 11 2004 by Totally Anonymous
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent
One of my favorite books ever read. Magnificent.
Published on April 10 2004 by J. Jacobs
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable for the most part
The quintessential apex of the hierarchy in enjoying this novel unequivocally resides within Kundera's embracement of ideas and their translation to the page. Read more
Published on April 9 2004 by "eclectic42"
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