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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. I was hesitant to start this, and figured for awhile that it would be one of those books that maybe I d get around to or maybe I wouldn t It just didn t seem like something I d enjoy it seemed too soft, or too postmodern, or too feel good, or too based in hedonism, or too surface oriented What caused me to give it a shot was the simple fact that I ll be traveling to Prague in a few weeks, and since the book s setting takes place there, I figured it may put me in the mood for the trip I figured it was now or never in regards to reading it And yet, even with that being the case, I hesitated a bit That is, until the mere mentioning it received an almost overzealously positive response from two close friends whose opinions I hold in high regard Their response was so enthusiastic that I was pushed over the edge shoved into thinking that the novel s chances of being lame had been lessened, and that it would be worth the trial.And I m glad I decided to give this book a shot Damn glad.The novel traces the lives of two couples during the Soviet occupation of Prague, during the late 1960 s The novel deep heartedly charts their struggles against communism, their pasts, their lovers, and themselves.Kundera observes the stuff that goes on internally amongst the characters he intellectualizes it, and tells you about it He s quite philosophical, and you feel like the narrator is talking to you, offering very insightful observations about the characters and life in general This is one reason why reading is often valuable than watching TV or a movie when reading a good book you get direct psychological explanations, and you get to go inside the heads of characters.Taken as a whole, I found this novel to be profound, but in unusual ways It s not a direct novel, but rather one that represents, and lets one feel, disconnections and various glimpses of perceptions And it wasn t a smooth novel, either It even felt choppy on occasion But the chapters are short, which fits its feel, and also gives you time to think about the penetrating thoughts that Kundera puts across Kundera strikes me as a craftsman of sorts He switches timelines deftly and effectively even when I thought he was crazy to do so when I thought he gave up the climax of the novel towards its middle, he proved me dead wrong He proved to me that he knew exactly what he was doing because he s a master of the craft This novel is not full of sweeping, pounding paragraphs of poignant, soul hitting, philosophical depth, but rather offers up constant glimpses nuggets of insightful observations on almost every page, that when added up together, reveal an impressive, heartfelt, and real work I love the way this novel portrays love It recognizes and represents its beauty while at the same time showing how psychological and manipulatable it can be The loves in this novel are accurate ones, not at all cheapened by gimmicky slogans or conventional lines The dance seemed to him a declaration that her devotion, her ardent desire to satisfy his every whim, was not necessarily bound to his person, that if she hadn t met Tomas, she would have been ready to respond to the call of any other man she might have met instead Kundera brilliantly portrays how simple things like our past, our country, images, family even metaphors, can affect our psyche and major life decisions Tomas did not realize at the time that metaphors are dangerous Metaphors are not to be trifled with A single metaphor can give birth to love Its fragility and delicacy What would happen if Tomas were to receive such a picture Would he throw her out Perhaps not Probably not But the fragile edifice of their love would certainly come tumbling down For that edifice rested on the single column of her fidelity, and loves are like empires when the idea they are founded on crumbles, they, too, fade away Perhaps if they had stayed together longer, Sabina and Franz would have begun to understand the words they used Gradually, timorously, their vocabularies would have come together, like bashful lovers, and the music of one would have begun to intersect with the music of the other But it was too late now Sometimes even one sentence can say a lot Looking out over the courtyard at the dirty walls, he realized he had no idea whether it was hysteria or love While people are fairly young and the musical composition of their lives is still in its opening bars, they can go about writing it together and exchange motifs the way Tomas and Sabina exchanged the motif of the bowler hat , but if they meet when they are older, like Franz and Sabina, their musical compositions are or less complete, and every motif, every object, every word means something different to each of them And it s worth reiterating that the philosophical ideas in this novel are very thought provoking Tomas thought Attaching love to sex is one of the most bizarre ideas the Creator ever had The importance of our decisions The lack of importance of our decisions The unavoidable importance of life The unavoidable lack of importance of life That s how this novel feels.If I m to give a book five stars, it needs to affect me in some profound ways it needs to change me, at least a little This novel has affected my view of life how I see the world Specifically, it s helped me better understand beauty I have trouble elaborating on that because beauty is such an abstract concept you know it when you see it, or rather you know it when you feel it Beauty has some melancholy it is appreciative special but fleeting and never fully absorbed as its full whole Maybe that s a major aspect of beauty knowing it is beyond your grasp Beyond you.Life is ultimately a crapshoot You don t know what s going to happen You might as well hang on to something And that something might as well be love whether it be plutonic, romantic, or, if you re lucky, both And if that s what you re going to hang on to and you are , then you might as well understand its simplicity and its complexity, and its beauty you might as well understand and appreciate as much of it as you can It only makes sense that you do.This novel can help you do that. This review is sung by Freddy Mercury to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody.Is this a fiction Is this just fantasy Not just a narrativeOf Czech infidelity.Reader four eyesLook onto the page and readI m just a Prague boy, I ve sex with empathyBecause I m easy come, easy goA little high, little lowAny Soviet era Czech knows, unbearable lightness of beingGood Reads, just read a bookPut a bookmark on the pagePlayed my audio now it s readGood Reads, the book had just begunBut now I ve read all Milan had to sayGood Reads, oooDidn t mean to make you sighIf I m not back again this time tomorrowCarry on, carry on, unbearable lightness of beingToo late, this book is doneA short book no need to break the spineBody s just egalitarianGood read everybody I ll say soGotta leave you all behind and face the truthGood Reads, ooo any Soviet era Czech knows I don t want the book to endI sometimes wish I d never started to read at allI read a little dialogue from of a manTomas, Tomas will you make love to Teresa Thunderbolt and lightning very nearly enticing meRepetition Repetition Repetition Repetition Repetition Kundera Metaphor But I m just a Prague boy and many women love meHe s just a Prague boy from a Czech familyFlair is his prose from this virtuosityEasy come easy go will you let me goBohemia No we will not let you go let him goBohemia We will not let you go let him goBohemia We will not let you go let me goWill not let you go let me go never Never let you go let me goNever let me go oooNo, no, no, no, no, no, noOh Milan Kundera, Milan Kundera says its soPremier Brezhnev has a gulag put aside for meFor meFor me Brian May melts our faces with a blistering guitar solo while Wayne and Garth head bang in a Pacer Soviet tanks can occupy and eat our pieNaked women can sing and leave me to dieOh Milan, Kant German sex MilanJust gotta go Swiss just gotta get right outta hereOoh yeah, ooh yeahUnbearable lightnessAnyone can readUnbearable lightness unbearable lightness of beingAny Soviet era Czech knows There is probably one novel that is the most responsible for the direction of my post graduation European backpacking trip ten years ago which landed me in Prague for two solid weeks Shortly before my friend Chad and I departed, he mailed me a letter and directed me to get my hands on a copy of Milan Kundera s The Unbearable Lightness of Being Just read it, he wrote Whatever else you do, just read this book It is about everything in the world.Being already a Kafka fan of some long standing, I was quite open to another absurdly minded Czech telling the story of his city and by extension the rest of the world The title itself was familiar, though not the author s name, and I rather innocently mistook Kundera for a woman at first glance at the cover Suffice to say, Kundera had me at the very first paragraph Has any other modern novel had such a wonderfully philosophical opening than this one 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 What does this mad myth signify In two sentences, the very first two, Kundera not only manages to break several writing rules of style an exclamation mark, followed by a direct address to the reader being the most obvious , but he also succinctly sums up one of the most challenging philosophical concepts, yet is wise enough to address it on its own terms as a mad myth From the earliest possible chance, the author is telling us that he is indeed an intellectual, that he writes energetically, playfully, and that serious Ideas with the full timbre basso profundo tolling out that capital I are the very pith and marrow of novels and are not to be stuffed, labeled, and set up high on a shelf reserved for great thoughts too refined and delicate to mingle among the common rabble of characters and dialogue and action.Needless to say, this is a heady mix, the kind of thing to go straight to a recent college graduate with literature and philosophy on the brain And we haven t even touched on the sex yet Kundera s books are rife with sex, sex is the other engine driving this dually powered writer, sex both passionate and routine, sex filled up with deep emotional meaning and sex stripped down to its tangible physicality, sex as recurring motif in one s life illuminating greater insights into one s personality and sex as secret door into the aesthetics of our time.To write, as some have, that the book is primarily about erotic encounters is as much as to say that Beethoven was a guy who played piano Instead it is a book about tyranny, the large and the small, the ones we endure and the ones we resist, the ones we submit to for love and the ones that always rankle silently The tyranny of kitsch, as understood by the novel, kitsch to mean a subjective, sentimental folding screen that hides away the sight of death The questions that the book seeks to explore circle around the ideas of polar opposites, truth and lies, love and hate or indifference , freedom and slavery, heaviness and lightness.The Kundera style is a very delightful bit and piecework manner We focus on one character, that character s perceptions, that character s perspectives, in little miniatures, some essay like, that elaborate on the character s psychology or history Then we shift to another character and learn new things about that person, sometimes touching on the same pieces we ve seen already It s like Rashomon but expansive, drawing circles around lives and eras instead of merely one night s events.Part of what Kundera does is move the story along through first one person, then go back in time and retell only some of that story focused on a second person and demonstrate how our best attempts at comprehending each other remains woefully inadequate There will always be layers fathoms below our drilling Yet at the same time, Kundera moves the story forward, stops, switches character again and in this third instance either goes back to person number one or switches to person number three and repeats the process, and repeats again What emerges is rather like conflicting court testimony, multiple moving parts simultaneously illuminating their own motivations and obscuring others.If there is a weakness to all of this it is that Kundera s novels sometimes develop the quality of theoretical exercises between characters embodying certain philosophical conceits While the author may touch the mind and the libido, the heart often remains chilly There is a sense of artificiality when you stare too longly at the book s constructs, as though the author were merely embodying an essay with puppets for illustrative purposes Though what precisely does lie behind our disagreements and disconnections from others than differing mental states We fall out of love with someone not because of the size of her bottom or his new haircut, but because our lives shift in differing directions and we can no longer think in the same cohesive manner with the other person Our ideas become different What are our wants but our ideas given concrete form and targets Metaphors are dangerous, the author writes than once throughout the novel Metaphors are not be trifled with A single metaphor can give birth to love So thinks the novel s hero Tomas, the epic womanizer, as he reflects on how he came to love Tereza who is soon his wife This couple, a marriage dancing around secrets and each of the partner s inability to communicate finally the truth about who they are to their spouse, is used for comparison and contrast with Franz, a middle aged married professor in Switzerland who is in love with one of Tomas exiled Czech mistresses, the artist Sabine Their stories are told against the backdrop of the Russian invasion and subjugation of Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.Kundera twines their two stories together examining how love can either lift us up to heights of ecstasy or weigh us down with its solidity and unchangeable reality then poses the surprising question which condition should we view as the negative in binary opposition Is it the uncentered lack of gravity that makes love real and powerful or does that quality make us too airy and flighty, unserious when we most need it Or rather can it be love s grounding quality that allows us to feel with stability the other s existence or does that weight merely pin us down, smother us with its heft Can it be both Can it be that when couples part it is because what is lighter than a breeze for one has become a leaden drag on the other This is push and pull of ideas and language and sentiments is beautifully illustrated in the novel s third part, titled Words Misunderstood, in which Kundera examines how Sabina and Franz s inability to understand the terms the other uses leads to their separation This is done through a sort of anecdotal dictionary that allows each character to demonstrate their grasp of an idea The shortest bluntly captures some of the magic of this portion CEMETERY Cemeteries in Bohemia are like gardens The graves are covered with grass and colorful flowers Modest tombstones are lost in the greenery When the sun goes down, the cemetery sparkles with tiny candles It looks as though the dead are dancing at a children s ball Yes, a children s ball, because the dead are as innocent as children No matter how brutal life becomes, peace always reigns in the cemetery Even in wartime, in Hitler s time, in Stalin s time, through all occupations When she felt low, Sabina would get into the car, leave Prague far behind, and walk through one or another of the country cemeteries she loved so well Against a backdrop of blue hills, they were as beautiful as a lullaby For Franz a cemetery was an ugly dump of stones and bones.And this too is part of the novel s recurring genius At every stage, there is an elegiac note to happiness as though all these dances have been gone through before, as though all love affairs, even should Nietzsche be wrong, carry within them the seeds of their own endings Franz and Sabina s inability to even understand each other on very basic levels dooms their romance from the beginning Their tragedy is commonplace and follows a pattern as though ritualized.Tereza and Tomas marriage we see is held together only by each other s willingness to commit to it and to some third greater thing than either of themselves, though what that third thing is neither of them understand For each of them separately, it is a kind of death to be together and a kind of death to be apart, and together their momentary happinesses are a kind of staving off of this specter.Kundera nicely ends The Unbearable Lightness of Being, foreshadowing what happens later after the closing scenes, which gives the novel a sadly sweet tone instead of merely tragic Instead of simply ending with death, as a kind of negation, the book closes with sleep, part of the circling motif, the cycle we go through, our lives one passing hoop.After my initial reading of the novel, I found myself rereading it immediately, going through all of it again, underlining passages, committing certain ones to memory Over the years, I have returned again and again to this novel, than many others, much than Kundera s other novels despite my having read them repeatedly as well To return to Kundera s world is like reliving your best relationships and maybe your worst ones as well , but reliving them as though you had been smarter, wiser, deeper at the time than you really were It is a kind of exorcism and a kind of nostalgia and it is a beautiful example of writing that matters, beyond all else, writing that matters.