Book Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Book Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Happy Monday! I hope that everyone had an amazing weekend– I sure did, which is why this review is coming a bit later than expected! However, I am ready to share my thoughts of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

Within the first 50 pages of The Unbearable Lightness of Being I found a receipt between the pages. It was Barnes & Noble receipt that was so faded I had to press my hand against the back in order to read the words from the page. The receipt was from January 2008, I had purchased this book, I paid under $14.00, and received 20% off due to my Barnes & Noble member discount. Touching the receipt brought back a wave of memories. I used to spend many weekday afternoons that bled into the evenings at my local Barnes & Noble when I was in middle and high school. I spent nearly all my money on new books and cafe treats. I could spend hours amongst the book shelves, reading random pages, flipping through the art books, writing my own words on the outside patio– so many happy memories returned to me as I held the worn receipt. Yet, I also felt a tinge of sadness. I bought this book in 2008, and here a decade later– yes, it has been 10 years and I am freaking out a little bit at how fast the years had flown by and I had not read this book. I felt ashamed that it had sat on my shelf for so long. How did I keep letting this one slip through my fingers each time I browsed my overstuffed bookshelf for a new book to read. I didn’t have the answer. All I knew was that I now was reading this book, a book I had heard so much about and been told by a number of friends to read. Now was my time and I was ready to soak up every ounce this book had to offer.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being was first published in 1984 in French, a year later the original Czech version was published. An english version was printed in 1984 as well, with a UK version in 1985. Milan Kundera was a Czech born French writer who became a naturalized French citizen in 1981. He found exile in France in 1975 and considered that his home. He likes to refer to himself as a Frenchman and views his work as French literature, not Czech.

Kundrea is a celebrated writer who has accumulated a variety of awards:
Jerusalem Prize, 1985
The Austrian State Prize for European Literature, 1987
Vilenica International Literary Festival, 1992
Herder Prize, 2000
Czech State Literature Prize, 2007

Many have speculated at him being nominated for the Noble Prize in Literature on several occasions, but he has never won. Some argue that he should, for his distinctive literary voice, yet others push against it saying that while his work is notable, there are far better writers more deserving. Regardless, at this time Kundrea has not received the Noble Prize in Literature.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is unusual in the sense of what genre it is. While it is fiction, there is a huge philosophical emphasis throughout the book. In addition, historical and political content also plays a significant role in the story. The novel is a bit experimental because of this, although despite the time jumps, different character perspectives, plot-lines, etc. the book still feels very continuous and flows naturally. It is there where Kundrea’s writing ability really shines.

The story is centered around 5 characters: (Thomas, Tereza, Sabina, Franz, & Karenin) and follows two couples over the course of their life. Both couples, whose relationships at times intertwine, discover the meaning of life and love.

I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect with this novel. I didn’t really know what the plot was– which I actually prefer because that way you don’t go in with any judgments or preconceived notions. I will summarize quickly the premise of the plot.

The story is set in Prague during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Thomas is a surgeon who also happens to be quite the ladies man, & finds himself with new woman frequently. One day he meets Tereza and they fall in love. These feelings are new to Thomas as before he enjoyed being with many women and didn’t find himself in love. Thomas & Tereza’s love story is begins, they have ups & downs, get married, etc… (Again, I don’t want to spoil the plot!) Sabina & Franz are having an affair of their own. Sabina has connections with Thomas & Tereza, so the story follows these characters as they have significant moments with each other at various times throughout their lives. The Unbearable Lightness of Being follows these 4 characters as they discover what the meaning of life is to them, experience happiness, conflict, & more. With underlining philosophical tones, the novel does a fine job of pulling at your emotional strings, making you think hard about your life and the choices you’ve made & perhaps why you have made them.

I highly enjoyed this novel. The writing was beautiful, smart, and made me feel like I was actually reading a fine piece of literature. A welcomed change from my previous book– King & Maxwell! This book many me feel so much. At times I was cringing turning the page, other times tears were falling from my eyes, while even other times I filled with the warm feelings of romance & new beginnings.

If you haven’t had a chance to read this extraordinary book by Milan Kundera, I would highly recommend it. I don’t know where I would add this on my list of favorite novels, however I know it has taken a place among them.

Cheers & stay chic!
-Taylor

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