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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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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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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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5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book June 19 2014
By fionah
Format:Paperback
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Becoming Somebody Other Than Our Old Selves Jan. 20 2014
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This is the story of Tomaz and Tereza as it unfolds in the modern state of Czechoslovakia over three generations. In this complex novel, Kundera looks at how relationships over time can transform individuals as to how they connect with the greater society, the state, the family, lovers, and even animals. All bases in life get covered here as Kundera ponders some of the bigger mysteries of life as to who we are as we grow apart and come together through forces we often don't understand. In all this coming and going, we should not pretend to live to ourselves because that is a sure recipe for self-destruction as seen in the sordid side story about Stalin's son dying in a German POW camp. Freedom comes from allowing oneself to be consumed in the many reshaping vicissitudes of life that involve such tensions as loyalty versus betrayal, love versus hatred, life versus death, and confidence versus fear. Tomas and Tereza's torrid, hot and cold love affair will take them all over Europe, far away from their native land, in a desperate search for happiness. Only in the end will they realize that they must return to the place of least security: a Czechoslovakia in the grips of a Communist backlash. Even with all their accumulated moments of angst and uncertain love in the past, this couple can't exist apart as they look into the future. This book is loaded with Nietzchean views as to what can traditionally stand in the way as we allow the future to remake us in the great march through time. The storyline is an emotional roller-coaster that only makes sense as the main characters move forward in their search for bigger meaning and purpose in a life threatening to pull them apart.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great Aug. 2 2008
By elfdart TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
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. these people are used to embody certain ideals and characteristics, and i interpreted their actions more as metaphor rather than just an act in itself.

i suppose one of the major themes in the book is expressed in the title, this idea of weight in association with how we interact with the world, and whether or not it is a good or bad thing to have. i understood the weight to be our ties to the world, our responsibilities. like a sac we carry. the question is -is it better to have the sac full of stuff you may need or want with you or is it better to be unburdened? what i found helpful was that for the perspectives presented, the opposite perspective is presented to contrast, neither one being more right than the other.

each of the four main characters had some sort of struggle they were attempting to overcome (which i loved reading about. there is nothing more enlightening and empowering than to watch someone overcome what discontents them). all of the struggles have to do with how the characters interact with those they know, which i saw to be a preference for either weight or lightness.

this is one of those books you could (and should) spend hours thinking about.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant masterpiece! March 2 2000
Format:Paperback
This is the kind of novel that changes your life. For anyone who appreciates the brilliance of the writings of Kafka or Havel, this is a must read. The book's primary theme is that of lightness versus heaviness. Lightness is casted negatively by Kundera, and rightly so. A great read due to its message and unconventional style. Kundera is a master of the written word.
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Most recent customer reviews
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 The Unbearable Lightness of Being
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,... Read more
Published on May 30 2004 by Damian Kelleher
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 So much better than the movie
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. Read more
Published on May 2 2004
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 11 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"
4.0 out of 5 stars The Eternal Return
"The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is a story intertwined with philosophical musings. It follows in the vein of the earlier existentialists Camus and Sartre, but rather than... Read more
Published on March 25 2004 by Lukas Jackson
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