Evan's Reviews > The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
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Mar 10, 09

bookshelves: 2009-reads, yearning, fucked-up-women
Read in March, 2009

Philip Kaufman's 1980s film version was memorable, a wispy art movie that seemed maybe too suffused by a slick 'Elvira Madigan' sensibility, a bit "light," as it were. It was sort of the English Patient of its day (though not as good, perhaps). Juliet Binoche was in both, as it happened.

So I'm starting the book and it riffs a bit on Nietzsche's idea of the eternal return. I can't decide if this is profound or half-baked or both. I'm not convinced that the paradigm of lightness and weight is the most profound of all questions, as posited.

But there are love stories here, and now they begin and I like the time and the setting in Prague and the "lightness" of the narrative so far, apart from the initial attempt to 'legitimize' it via some philosophical framework about the transitory nature of existence that could have been stated more briefly. But hey, you gotta give the writer his room. We'll see....

OK, on page 57: Getting my teeth into this now and it's improving greatly. Backstories of characters are filling out, the story of the Czech provincial girl and her fucked up upbringing and longing for something better is sweet. Just enough philosophizing in the mix to keep it thought-provoking. Still reading...

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OK, nearly finished and here's the lowdown:

I'm giving a mild thumbs-up to "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." I don't think Kundera handles his nonlinear narrative as well as Marquez did in "Love in the Time of Cholera" and the main character, the promiscuous surgeon, is not terribly interesting despite the interesting backdrop of Czechoslovakia during the Soviet clampdown of 1968. The women characters are rather more interesting. Kundera's philosophizing sometimes seems pedantic and half-baked; he tries to force a lot of ruminations into the mix to lend significance to his love story. Not sure that it all works neatly, but it does hold my attention. It's a mixed bag, but there are enough pure chocolate treats to offset the black liquorice jellybeans.

I'm giving it a mild four-star rating because I think it's a more significant book than merits merely three stars. It's worth a try if you're so inclined.

All right, I feel the need to amend this review yet again. The book is, in fact, frequently infuriating; Kundera seems compelled to interrupt his narrative often with tiresome ruminations on politics and such - there's an interminable section in which he expounds on kitsch (get on with it already!) - even injecting himself as the author into the mix, and the effect seems lazy rather than inspired. And yet there are good things still; the bit about the four types of people defined by how they must be seen by others is pretty damned good. I have mixed feelings about trotting out a dying dog to evoke sympathy and comment on the bond between Tomas and Tereza.

Despite everything, I'm sticking with four stars, because, on balance, it was a rewarding read. Maybe overrated, but still worthy.
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03/06/2009 page 57
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Noran Miss Pumkin just did not work for me, maybe it was break of my break-up at the time, but i was happy and on the up-swing. a guy at borders handed it to me and said it was a must read for me. NOT!


Evan It kind of works for me because of the other similar books about promiscuous relationships I've been reading lately. I don't tend to judge characters and their behaviors when I read books; I'm more interested in how their story is told and how it taps into greater truths and all that. People conducting unconventional or forbidden love lives I find interesting, especially when there are hypocrisies involved as in this book; the nature of attraction is always a mystery.


Noran Miss Pumkin might have been the time, but i di not care for the style of writing.


Evan Well, Noran, I agree with you in a sense, Kundera is not as deft a writer as his partisans might claim. It is a bit choppy. But there's lots to ponder. He's definitely not a favorite of mine, but I can understand the enthusiasm for this book. The way he describes the various lovers' various unmet needs and confusions is quite good. I love that kind of stuff.

And Mimi, I noticed you rated Marquez's "100 Years of Solitude" 5 stars. Have you been reading this without telling me? I thought we were supposed to read this together, so as to discuss.


Evan OK, Mimi. Well I'm sure i can start very soon. I'm off work tomorrow to try to figure out financial aid stuff for my son Alex, so i might not have much reading time for the next few days. Glad to see you here on GR again.


message 6: by Navin (new) - added it

Navin A neat review


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