This book was not for me. It had it's moments*, of course, and its themes (identity, isolation, love, loss, truth, beauty) are timeless. I'm glad I re...moreThis book was not for me. It had it's moments*, of course, and its themes (identity, isolation, love, loss, truth, beauty) are timeless. I'm glad I read it, if for no other reason than to entitle me to an opinion on it. But for me it lacked warmth and was egregiously didactic and overly intellectual.
I know, I know: Kundera is well known for drawing un-fleshed characters, for his choppy plots, and his philosophical ruminations that break through the fourth wall. But despite being a fan of Kafka, and albeit less so, Nietzsche, I just found his meandering lessons too proselytizing, too much of an interruption. His style is the antithesis of "show, don't tell", and frankly I'd rather just read Kafka and Nietzsche.
I will not, however, take issue with Kundera's focus on the erotic, as some other reviewers here have done. Many of the ideas central to this novel couldn't be touched without being steeped in eroticism and sex, to say nothing of what beautiful subjects they are in and of themselves.
I also did not find fault with the way that Kundera represents women, or his womanizing central figure Tomas, as others apparently have. In fact, these impressions might be characterized as examples of the very fundamental "words misunderstood" phenomenon that is so central to the novel. Instead, these characters struck me as embodying the complexities of gender roles and self-image.
Finally, I am left wondering if my appreciation of this work might be increased by exposure to either other examples of Kundera's writing, and/or other writers' coverage of the Prague Spring and its aftermath. A second reading of the text isn't out of the question for me either; as I travel further into middle age, the questions about the nature of existence, what is reality, do I have an "enslaving imperative" become more and more pressing. And you can bet that now I'm going to run out and rent the movie version for comparison. I can only hope that the narrator, if there is one, keeps a tighter reign on his need to lecture the viewer than the author did.
* The highlight for me was the dissection of the concept of decisions and their effects on our life. During my grad school application interview, one of the panel questions was: "What decision have you made in your life that makes you wonder 'What if I chose the other course of action'?". All the other applicants answered by relaying an anecdote of some decision that led them to question what would be different about their life if they'd taken the other path, but I answered by wondering what might be the same about my life if I'd chosen differently. "Es muss sein."(less)
Take my star-rating with a grain of salt, as I read this during my sexual awakening, suffused with hormones and at the insistence of my first lover (a...moreTake my star-rating with a grain of salt, as I read this during my sexual awakening, suffused with hormones and at the insistence of my first lover (an antiquarian bookseller who collected erotica). If I were to read it now, 29 years later, I'm fairly certain that my mid-life self would see it in a different light.(less)