A book about love and infidelity, a book about the nature of ‘Being’, a book filled with philosophical speculation, a book where tragedy and comedy go hand in hand, where no boundaries between love and hate, between lightness and weight, between soul and body exist. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is about all of these. But it is also a novel about two women, two men and a dog: about their encounters and their existential worries (not so many existential thoughts for the dog, though).
The novel is placed mainly in Prague during the late 60s and early 70s, putting an emphasis the way Czech intellectuals and artists lived and tried to morally survive during the Communist period, especially after the Soviet Union’s invasion in August 1968. The action is centred around Tomas, an unfaithful surgeon; his wife Tereza, a photographer passionate about literature and torn apart by Tomas’ sexual encounters; Sabina, one of Tomas’ lovers and a very free-spirited artist, Franz, a university professor and Sabina’s lover when she moves to Switzerland, and Karenin, Tereza’s dog named after Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina. Each of these characters corresponds to a certain lightness or weight as part of Kundera’s speculative philosophy.
In an attempt to challenge Nietzsche’s concept of the eternal return, the life stories of the characters are meant to give us an alternative, to demonstrate the universe and its ideas do not recur for ever, but rather that each person has just one chance, one single life to live and its reoccurrence is absurd. Hence, the being should be associated with certain lightness. The lightness of sex, the lightness of love, the lightness of infidelity, the lightness of walking on the streets of Prague, the lightness of the exile, so the lightness of existence itself is paradoxical by being unbearable as the title states. Even though the word “lightness” might make us feel like we are moving towards a type of peaceful existence, this is not Kundera’s message. It is rather that lightness through expressing a lack of something becomes unbearable. It is a burden.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a very enjoyable read as it offers a fresh perspective on existentialism, without having to struggle through the heavy philosophical jargon of the 20th century. Hence, if you are interested in existential philosophy and you like well written literature, this novel is a perfect match for you
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