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on 21 September 2001
A friend of mine gave me this book just before I moved to Hungary (where much of the book is set) to live for a year, and to a large degree my experience of that country is tied up with my feelings about this monumental novel. It took me a long time to read but when I finished I was left with a far-off, remote feeling of quiet sadness and contemplation that only a few of my very favourite books have given me. It is true, the book does require considerable commitment from its readers - it is narrated in an extraordinarily long-winded, Proustian stream-of-consciousness fashion, and the shifts between narrators (there are three), settings and epochs are not always easy to navigate. But the incredible sustained depth of this work, the beauty of its passages, and the genuine pathos that it achieves make it well worth the effort. In "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" Milan Kundera arranges the chronology such that the last section of the book takes place before the middle section, and thus we read about the strivings of the characters with the tragic foreknowledge of their deaths. In Nadas Peter's book this device is carried to a new extreme: The penultimate section of the book is narrated by a childhood friend of the author of the rest of the book, who informs us of the death of this author. The final section is written by the now-dead author and "appended" by his friend as the "keystone" to the whole work. Thus we read the final section with the knowledge that the narrator of this section (written in the first-person) is now dead, and the effect is harrowing. The irony of the book's closing words, coming as they do after a work of colossal length and complexity, brings me to tears every time I read them.
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on 30 July 2014
Excellent. Thank-you.
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on 9 November 2012
Found it utterly boring, long dissertations about personal feelings make it hard to hold the reader's attention. Far away from the 20th century crisp matter of fact style of uk and us fiction is instead convoluted and complex. À lot lieu commun instead of any particular deep insights. The staccato 3 voice structure doesn't help as it continuously breaks attention and focus. Have given up after page 200 (end of part 1)
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