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The Unbearable Lightness of Being [Paperback]

Milan Kundera , Michael Henry Heim
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

21 Aug 2000

In this novel - a story of irreconcilable loves and infidelities - Milan Kundera addresses himself to the nature of twentieth-century 'Being' In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and by fortuitous events, a world in which everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. We feel, says the novelist, 'the unbearable lightness of being' - not only as the consequence of our private acts but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine.

Juxtaposing Prague, Geneva, Thailand and the United States, this masterly novel encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, and embraces, it seems, all aspects of human existence. It offers a wide range of brilliant and amusing philosophical speculations and it descants on a variety of styles.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; New Ed edition (21 Aug 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571135390
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571135394
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Brilliant . . . A work of high modernist playfulness and deep pathos."-- Janet Malcolm, "New York Review of Books""Kundera has raised the novel of ideas to a new level of dreamlike lyricism and emotional intensity." -- Jim Miller, "Newsweek""Kundera is a virtuoso . . . A work of the boldest mastery, originality, and richness."-- Elizabeth Hardwick, "Vanity Fair"

About the Author

The French-Czech novelist Milan Kundera was born in the Czech Republic and has lived in France since 1975.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, thought-provoking and sublime. 28 April 2001
By A Customer
When this book was recommended to me, I was warned that I may find it to be heavy going in places. Thankfully, this has not proven to be true. While this is certainly in no way a "light" read, the near-poetic rhythm of Kundera's prose is such a joy to read that even the most reluctant reader will soon find him/herself unable to put it down. Most of this book is set in and around Communist Central Europe in the 1980s, and manages to evoke the mood of that time and place whilst simultaneously creating characters so real you could almost reach out and touch them, with the voice of Kundera occasionally interrupting to offer philosophical speculation on the character's lives and the themes of the book. The effect is intellectually stimulating and comforting at the same time, echoing (to me, at least) the flow of chidren's books (remember when Roald Dahl used to interrupt his stories to grumble about children? Like that, but better!). I know I ought to point out any flaws in this book, but there aren't any. Simply superb.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unbearable Lightness of Being 31 July 2010
By TomCat
'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' follows the lives of Tomas (a Czechoslovakian surgeon), his wife Tereza and his mistress Sabina during the Prague Spring of 1968 and the turbulent years that followed the event.

At heart, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the story of how three very different people attempt (and repeatedly fail) to reconcile their differing views of love. Tomas, for example, has promiscuous sex with as many women as possible, but he is only in love with one woman - his wife. For Tomas, love and sexuality are distinct and separate entities, and he has no moral scruples about loving one woman while sleeping with many:

"Tomas came to a conclusion: making love with a woman, and sleeping with a woman, are two separate passions, not merely different, but opposite. Loves does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman)."

By contrast, Tomas' wife Tereza believes in marital fidelity - she loves her husband and blames herself for his womanizing life-style. Her despair in life comes from an unresolved personal mind-body dualism; she believes that Tomas loves her soul, but not her body. This fundamental difference in sexual behaviour is the conflict that underpins the entire novel - there's a heartbreaking pathos forged out of the relationship between Tomas and Tereza; their great depth of feeling is persistently tested by their irreconcilable views of love.

The third major protagonist is Sabina, an artist with an unusual take on the concept of `betrayal'. Sabina feels oppressed by her parochial ancestry and the artistic limitations imposed on her by the communist occupation.
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful! 17 July 2004
By A Customer
I happened to pick this book up by accident. Intrigued by its title, I read through the first two pages. It was very dense, and I thought it would be a hard read...but it flowed easily while touching many philosophical questions. As you followed the characters along, you realize how the characters represent what is human in all of us. This book was an amazing experience. Kundera develops the characters so well, that you become very attached to them. They become a part of you. Kundera also beautifully describes their thoughts and experiences. He puts into words everything you have thought about life and people and (mis-)communication but never really made it to the surface of your thoughts. A wonderful read that keeps you captivated until the end. It's not difficult to read, but you will constantly be thinking.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ddin't love it 13 Nov 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was recommended this book by someone I thought was pretty cool at the time.
I'd read 'The Slave' by the same author earlier, and found it a bit hard going, but this guy was so keen that I thought I'd give it a go.

I have to say that I found it hard going as well, a bit pretentious and hard to engage with the characters, although I appreciated that it was beautifully written. I think it's probably a book you either love or hate - and I didn't love it.
The guy turned out not to be so cool as well - go figure :0)
I'm glad I've read it, but I doubt I'd read it again.
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50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy and a revelation 19 Feb 2003
By Tom
Milan Kundera is an unconventional storyteller. He never lets you forget his presence as author and narrator and even goes so far as to speak in the first person. He introduces his characters like acquaintances and his stories like anecdotes although parable is the more appropriate word. The story is far from incidental in his work and his characters are fully fleshed and involving but Kundera never lets his reader forget a wider significance. He also takes lengthy asides to expound a particular point or explore a particular train of thought yet this all adds rather than detracts from the beauty of the work.
Primarily this is a work about love and freedom which Kundera explores metaphorically through the opposition of weight and lightness. The essential question asked by this book is is it better to be weighed down by responsibility or to chose the unbearable lightness of being where our actions are "as free as they are inconsequential"? What price love?
This is explored through a number of different prisms and Kundera is equally at home discussing medieval theology as he is the death camps. Perhaps inevitably the Prague Spring of 1968 is given a major role and Kundera, as one who lived on both sides of the iron curtain is keen to demonstrate the way such experiences shape perception.
Kundera writes with a simple wisdom that makes his truths seem self evident and make you more aware of the way you view the world. The themes he deals with are both localised and universal. This is certainly one of my favourite books of all time and one that I keep on coming back to, either in its entirety or in small section like a reference book. Unsurpassed.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
had this book bought for me as a present a few years ago, loved it so much i bought it for friend of mine who also loved it! arrived on time and in prefect condition
Published 7 months ago by DIANA DUNTON
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant story of love, philosophy and politics
From the first few pages, I fell in love with the philosophical and elegant style that Heim manages to convey so well. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Sisyphus
4.0 out of 5 stars A book my son wanted to read. H
My son was delighted to get this book even though it was well thumbed and a bit tatty.It was as I would have expected for the price.Good value.
Published 7 months ago by Mrs. Christine Kenny
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
This book was highly recommended by a friend whose judgement I hold in high esteem, and I cannot understand why
this book does not appeal to me. I found it difficult. Read more
Published 9 months ago by jennifer steen
3.0 out of 5 stars All good but a bit stained and writing in the back
The book was a bit battered but thats to be expected from anything second hand, what I didnt expect to find was an entire list of family christmas present writen in huge blue... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Frightening lightness
Milan Kundera's book first appeared in 1984 and was greatly admired then. The main story is about Thomas, a clever surgeon who meets and eventually marries Tereza, a girl very... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Marit Johnsen
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!!
Really enjoyed "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". Fascinating read following different characters with different perspectives on love and life. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Wayne Exton
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed a long time ago
Written by a Czech, living in Paris, the book purchased by me at Gatwick, London Airport for reading on holiday at the beautiful and small Greek island of Leros. Read more
Published 13 months ago by realbookreview
4.0 out of 5 stars History of Czech republic's sexual revolution set against the backdrop...
As an insight into the changing sexual politics of the late sixties this is a great read. If you have an interest in Czech, as I do through a recent family marriage, it gives you a... Read more
Published 15 months ago by A. J. MEARS
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing book
bought for my girlfriend because i had read it and its amazing and she loved it. all in good condition
Published 17 months ago by alex melicher
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