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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, thought-provoking and sublime.
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...
Published on 28 April 2001

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ddin't love it
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...
Published 18 months ago by binsonsbooks


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15 of 15 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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The power of ideas..., 23 July 2008
Milan Kundera has the uncommon ability to twist and manipulate words to their full value and extract from them meaning that is not at first obvious. Throughout `The Unbearable Lightness of Being', he plays a game of word association that enables the reader to view his philosophical concepts in an entirely new light. At the crux of this game lies the debate between `weight' and `lightness' both of which can be considered `good' or `bad', if such crude divisions exist. However behind the metaphysical, Kundera delves into the very real emotions of his characters that he describes as being `born' of particular circumstances and ideas. Most effectively he captures the restlessness of Tereza whose `vertigo' forces her to constantly re-examine her life and what she seeks from it. Tomas is arguably the pivotal point of the novel, but Kundera creates all of his characters with incredible care. The time dedicated to each really pays off while at the same time Kundera slowly draws the reader into the philosophies of Nietzsche, Descartes and Parminides as well as his own conclusions about life and its mysteries.
`The Unbearable Lightness of Being' is utterly the best book I have read in a long, long time and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone, regardless of their taste in fiction. It is powerful, moving and thought-provoking and if I could give it any more than five stars I would. Please read this book!
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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 31 July 2010
By 
TomCat (Cardiff, Wales.) - See all my reviews
'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. As a result she deliberately distorts - in a highly visual manner - the everyday objects that surround her. One particularly memorable scene has Sabina straddling a mirror on the floor of her studio, completely naked except for her father's bowler hat. This serves as her own personal deconstruction of her father's puritan legacy and turns the conservative image of the bowler hat into a symbol of her sexual emancipation.

But I don't want to rant on about the characters too much, because by far the most interesting voice in the novel is that of the narrator. Although he is never formally named, he speaks with a first-person identity and possesses an intimate knowledge of the characters and their actions. It's probably safe to assume that the voice of the narrator is actually the voice of Milan Kundera himself.

This narrator is the source of a great deal of comedy in the novel - for no sooner than a scene is over does the narrator immediately start to critique the action. He often criticises the characters, their behaviour and even, in some brilliantly observant and hilarious acts of humility, the actual writing of the novel.

This creates an unusual reading experience. It's almost as if Kundera wrote two books - one of them a novel, the other a harsh yet humorous critique of the novel. He then mashed them together into one coherent volume, so that the reader receives a running-commentary on the events of the book as they occur. My description probably doesn't do it justice, but I assure you, this works brilliantly well.

Further to his practical criticism, the narrator also engages in long philosophical speculations; this is what really sets the novel apart from all others that I've read. The philosophy is relevant and enlightening, yet simultaneously very tongue-in-cheek. The Unbearable Lightness of Being begins by challenging and dismissing Nietzsche's idea of eternal return (the concept that everything occurs and recurs ad infinitum), but then the novel constantly replays the same scenes over and over to the reader - albeit from different perspectives.

The narrator will open up a philosophical discussion by defining his terms in a charmingly idiosyncratic manner. These terms will then recur throughout the novel. As the narrator introduces more and more concepts into his discussion, the language of the text becomes more and more esoteric. So much so that, by the end of the novel, there is such a breadth of specific terminology being used that the final fifty pages or so would barely make any sense to somebody who hasn't read the first few hundred. In other words, Kundera develops his own secret philosophical lexicon and shares it with the reader. This successfully creates a unique feeling of intimacy between narrator and reader, who share a common language, unknown to anybody else, exclusive to this narrator-reader relationship.

The novel's philosophy is as broad in scope as it is focused in linguistic detail. Kundera rigorously analyses what it means to `be' in the world by exploring some unusual but striking contrasts. Sexuality is examined through multitude, not intimacy. Politics is explored through love and marriage. There's even a long, very funny and thought-provoking attempt to reconcile the act of being God, with the fact of bowel movements. The narrator even muses, as I've glossed over, on the creative operational aspects of writing:

"Characters are not born like people, of women; they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor containing a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered, or said something essential about."

'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' is a wonderful book. It's tragically moving yet charmingly funny and self-aware. Pathos and philosophy, comedy and culture criticism all merge seamlessly and intelligently. If I was forced to draw any criticism against it, it would be that the narrator is significantly more interesting than any of the characters, but this is a very minor complaint. At worst you might argue that the book is merely a love-story masquerading as philosophical didacticism; at best The Unbearable Lightness of Being may inspire you to re-assess what it means to be in love, be in work, be political; in fact, you may find yourself questioning what it means to `be' in the world altogether.
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46 of 52 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Story and Substance, 30 Dec. 2012
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

`Love 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).' Thus pontificates the narrator in Chapter 6 of Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). This intriguing and at times irritating novel, set against the background of the Prague Spring, is at times more philosophy than story, the latter being based on the contrasting relationships between two pairs of lovers, Tomas and Tereza, and Franz and Sabina. The first pair carry the main plot, although the artist Sabina also features as one of Tomas's many mistresses. As a gynaecologist, Tomas avails himself of any opportunity he has for examining women's bodies. `He was not obsessed with women,' the narrator tells us, `he was obsessed with what in each of them is unimaginable, obsessed, in other words, with the one-millionth part that makes a woman dissimilar to others of her sex.' This is followed by a typical Kundera unravelling of Tomas's passion in which he is never quite able `to put down the imaginary scalpel.' The narrator ingenuously continues: `We may ask, of course, why he sought that millionth part dissimilarity in sex and nowhere else. Why couldn't he find it, say, in a woman's gait or culinary caprices or artistic taste?' The answer given by our commentator-narrator is that `Only in sexuality does the millionth part dissimilarity become precious, because, not accessible in public, it must be conquered.' In this book's clinical examination (at least in Tomas's case) it must.

Fascinating as this analysis of the root causes of sexual love may be, it tends to flatten out the characters, who become pawns in an intricate game rather than rounded human beings. Not every reader will have the patience to follow the drift of the narrator's essentially analytical mind which floats godlike over the action. The movie based on the book (shown last week late at night on BBC2) solves this problem by having Tomas on first encountering a `sample' order his women to strip for examination. There is thus ample opportunity for cute and acute camera angles, a field day for porno fiends. In more ways than one is the film a stimulating experience.

Kundera's book is no run-of-the-mill romance, but it manages to have enough plot to keep an intelligent reader interested to the end. Behind the love stories is the terror of the Russian occupation of Prague, where sexual love is seen as just one more tool in the need to dominate. - just as Tomas must dominate his love object of the moment, but ultimately lose the battle and move on to fresh conquest. Thus the Czech women sexually tease the occupying Russian forces; the secret police plant women to tease out information. The obscurity of the title, by the way, need put no reader off reading the book - it is explained before the story gets underway in reference to Nietzsche's notion of the eternal return, the heaviest of burdens. If we only have one life then, we are told, our lives can stand out against the eternal return `in all their splendid lightness.' But in that lightness of being lies the agony of uncertainty.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love, Life and (In)Fidelity, 24 April 2012
At its simplest level, this is merely a short novel about attitudes to love and the meanings of fidelity. The main characters approaches to love are almost diametric opposites, the surgeon Tomas, a promiscuous conqueror of women, and his wife Tereza, ashamed of her very body and unable to reconcile her husband's habits with her view of married fidelity. While the events unfold in front of the backdrop of the Prague Spring and the difficult years that follow, this is a novel focussed on the smaller, personal image, albeit no less profound in scope.

Despite this concentration on the characters, this is a novel bound to disappoint anyone looking for character and plot development. Various scenes are revisited from different perspectives, but there is no real plot to speak of, certainly the novel ends rather abruptly without any hint of a conclusion. Instead, we are treated to a philosophical tour of what it means to 'be' at all. The characters are explored for who they are and how they deal with people and with the world around them, their approach to love, sex, relationships, work. The principal dichotomy on display is that between the weight of responsibility and the lightness of inconsequence, but there is plenty of musing in other fields. Kundera fleetingly touches on many areas of life, from the meaning of words and their role in (mis)communication, to the position of kitsch in art, and our treatment of animals.

For all its philosophising, this is an eminently readable book. The prose is straight-forward and the interspersed author's comments on his creations provide plenty of food for thought, though this constant interruption might annoy some readers. Even its chapters are very short, which may have been Kundera's intention to give the reader plenty of time to pause and reflect.
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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
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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The unbearable lightness of humanity ?, 6 Oct. 2003
By 
Brida "izumi" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Wow - reading this novel is both comical and disheartening. It is essentially a novel about love and relationships, yet as it delves into this huge area of what it is to be human, Kundera throws in philosophical questions and speculations. These questions make reading the novel often slow work - I found myself often stopping and reflecting on what had just been said.
Although I enjoyed this book greatly, at times it did dishearted me, as it goes against what you may consider love to be. I know it's only a novel, but I found Tomas's infidelities hard to deal with; probably because he seemed to show no regard for Tereza's feelings. Yet although I may not like the character's actions, I cannot deny that there are people who are like this, and romance or love is hardly ever equally sided, or reverred in the same way from one person to the next.
This book really is an achievement. It cannot be summed up simply or easily. Rather, it is a book which gives you much to think about, especially your own thoughts and actions when it comes to love.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking..., 26 Mar. 2011
A thought provoking read. Definately held my attention in the 1st half more as it delved into politics a little too much for my liking in the 2nd. A great read nevertheless.

Beautifully narrated - highlight of the book for me - I felt more connected to the Author than I did the characters although I suppose it is all entwined. Provocative situtaions in the book may lead some readers to discontinue the read as they do not fit in with the social norms that society embraces on us.

Questions on love, the detachment of love from sex, the betrayal, the innocent neediness of Tereza... the inability of Thomas to attach - or I should say admit attachment as the love he has for Tereza seems to be in its purest form - although contradicted by his many love affairs... or is it?

A deep philosophical read - which I belive you will either LOVE or HATE.

Worked for me!!!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ddin't love it, 13 Nov. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
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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