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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Perennial Classics) Paperback – 1 May 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 115 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPerennial; Reprint edition (1 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060932139
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060932138
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,570,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"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"

Book Description

One of the most important and affecting novels written in the twentieth century.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
'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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Format: Paperback
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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By A Customer on 17 July 2004
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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