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Book Reviews - Review 172

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Milan Kundera


The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Category: Fiction | Published: 1984 | Review Added: Unknown

Rating: 5 - A personal favourite

Kundera's best novel, in my opinion, and an all-time classic. Czech doctor Tomas meets emotionally vulnerable Tereza in a bar and ends up marrying her. He's constantly torn between his desire to bed every woman he meets and his love for Tereza. Their relationship is both happy and sad.

Tomas's independence extends to his professional life, and when he refuses to back down over a claim that a letter he sent to a magazine was disingenuously edited on publication, he incurs the wrath of the communist Czech regime and ends up losing his job. But somehow, he and Tereza muddle through.

TULOB asks, in a nutshell: How much does our freedom to choose our actions really give us control over our lives? Is control over our lives even what we want? Doesn't a time come when we feel the need to commit ourselves to a course of action we can never turn back from? And in the end, is it a cause for celebration or regret that nothing matters, that we are all burdened by the "lightness of being"?

This may make TULOB sound arid and abstract, but on the contrary, it's one of the most moving novels I've read. There is very little physical desciption - we don't even find out what the characters look like - but this gives the novel a dreamlike vagueness of atmosphere which reinforces the themes of endless possibility and the impossibility of ever knowing where our actions will lead us, or whether they will procure us what we want.

I'm afraid I really can't praise this book enough: it's about life, love, chance, sex, politics - all human life is there.

That said, I've known several people who haven't liked it. Hardened pragmatists will claim it says nothing about real life. And feminists may find Kundera's old school view of sexual relations hard to take.

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