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on 6 July 1996
Reading a novel by Milan Kundera is a bit like taking a
long lunch with your favorite college philosophy professor,
and discovering that he's a wonderful storyteller. This
particular novel begins with a woman's beautiful but
fleeting gesture, and continues by telling us more about
her until both the history and the significance of her
gesture are revealed in their full, heady, context. On the
way, Kundera weaves in stories about Goethe, Napoleon, the
origins of sound bites and photo-ops, and of course, musings
on immortality. Like many good storytellers, Kundera even
presents himself as a minor character in his tale of love,
gestures and immortality. By the end of the novel, you will
feel intoxicated, as if your long lunch has been accompanied
by a number of good glasses of wine. And as you lift your
hand to wave goodbye to Kundera, you will realize that your
life has been changed, and that you will forever look at the
world with a slightly different view for having read this
amazing book.
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VINE VOICEon 19 April 2009
From almost the first page, Kundera holds the reader with his assured, purposeful prose, and it feels as though we have been invited to watch the creation of the narrative itself. In the process of that creation, we become so intoxicated with the story, the characters and the mesmerising interplay of themes and ideas, that we quite forget we are watching fiction come into being. Instead, we become part of the story, as much as Kundera himself, and as such the novel almost infiltrates our reality. Only when we put the novel itself down on the table, and see its physicality of rectangle and paper, are we reminded of our own separate existence... an existence that is nevertheless affected by the novel long after we have ceased to read its words.

Kundera is highly intelligent, and a great thinker, and his novel is inseparable from intelligent thought. But it is never foisted on us; being so beautiful; being like something we've always known but never quite been able to name. The philosophical journeys, for what else can we call the novel's fairy-tale trips into the questions of love, life, the body, sex, history, immortality itself, are remarkable both for their poignancy and their sensual delight. There's also something terrible about them, or is it something sad?

The novel's characters, dance and leap in a complex pattern of textual interweaving, but not as with much post modern writing, to expose the machinations of the language. Some contemporary writers display contempt for the novel's form and are determined to undermine it; on the contrary, Kundera seems to be devoted to the novel and its narrative. The story is eminently satisfying, the characters as rich and fully realised beyond their textual existence, as any "being" can be.

Some novels are almost impossible to review, that's where the first reviewer has excelled in their metaphor of lunch and wine. Kundera says in the novel, that "the essence of an individual can only be expressed by means of metaphor." With that technique taken, I am left with adjectives, and only the most vibrant adjectives seem capable of expressing the essence of this novel: sensual, intoxicating, mesmerising.
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on 21 August 2000
As in the earlier "Unbearable lightness...", Kundera writes a novel based on extremely well crafted characters, and this time he also includes a couple of historical characters and himself as well. Kundera's style and language makes this novel very easy to read, but the material is in fact quite heavy. It's a joy to read, but quite troubling at some points. I highly recommend this book, but I tend to propose interested readers to read "Unbearable lightness..." or some other of Kundera's earlier novels before tackling "Immortality".
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on 30 August 1999
This book is Kundera's Odyssey - an entertaining journey through time. Moving deftly from modern day Paris, to Goethe visiting Napoleon surrounded by papparazzi, it has Kundera's unmatched skill for philosophical discussion, and is full of amusing characters and incidents. I have read all his books and this is head and shoulders above the rest. Others may be more "important" (for those who study "the novel" or if you're Umberto Eco), but for people who don't have time for novel navel gazing, this is his most enjoyable.
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on 6 May 2004
I'll start by saying that I consider Milan Kundera to be the world's greatest living writer, and then mention that I believe this is his finest work, encompassing everything that it great about his writing.
The basic plot is about two sisters Agnes and Laura and their relationships with two radio broadcasters. But no one should read Kundera for the plot - there is always much more, and in this respect Immortality is no different to his earlier work.
So we get sections about Goethe and Hemingway, and three hundred pages into the book a new character is introduced on whom the narrative is focalised almost until the end. And there is Kundera's constant authorial voice, which is where, for me, this novel's genius is derived.
Kundera is a definite storyteller, in that he is always telling a story, and we are always aware that HE is telling it. And he tells it so deftly that he can bring to life highly realistic characters, and at the same time dismiss their reality. In Immortality, his presence is more clearly defined than ever, with numerous first person passages being included in which he describes meetings with his (presumably fictional) friend Professor Avenarius.
This is where one of the most remarkable features of the novel appears. Kundera (as a character) talks with Avenarius about the progress of his novel (the very novel which we read this in), and describes the characters of the novel as living alongside Avenarius, and therefore, presumably Kundera himself. There are further connections; for example he describes listening to the radio station which his characters work on.
You may well be thinking that I have misinterpreted a fairly standard first-person narration in which the narrator relates the lives of other characters. Perhaps I have. Perhaps Kundera has turned himself into a character. But if this is the case, then he certainly fooled me. The same wonderful authorial voice that can be found throughout his work is visible, and he even has the audacity at one point to give Avenarius (the character) a copy of one of his earlier novel's, Life is Elsewhere.
The way in which he breaks down the barriers between fiction and reality like this, to my mind, where the genius of Immortality lies. Kundera transcends the boundaries of storytelling, and yet still tells a fantastic story.
There is further greatness, such as the treatment of the main theme of immortality, and man's desire for it, but I have said enough, and there is too much to say about, and find within this incredible book.
Immortality is Milan Kundera at his most Kunderaesque. So, if you don't like Kundera, I don't recommend it to you. If you haven't read any Kundera, I don't really recommend it either: start with The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and get used to his voice rather than being plunged into a combination of that voice and the rest of the novel.
But if you haven't read any Kundera, then stop reading this and go and read some!
For me (someone who, you may have surmised, likes Milan Kundera very much indeed), this is one of the greatest books ever written, and I would urge everybody to read it at some point.
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on 29 April 2002
This book is academic but accessible. The narrative alternates between historical characters and fictional ones. Kundera explores the different motivations that lead people to make decisions, concluding that they are based on contrasting conceptions of immortality. Brilliant.
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on 3 January 2000
Rue the day you bought this book, for it will ruin your life. This is the most tragic and disturbing novel you will ever read. It's also very amusing and sweetly romantic at times, but the overall sense you will have upon finishing it is that something has been changed within you and will never be the same again. Of course, if this is the main pleasure you get from reading then rush for your credit card now - this is the most refined piece of formalised horror you can get, even at Amazon!
Watch as the quintessential gestures pass from character to character, discover how your own individuality is unreal, see how the little people become transparent and sad, how their lives are shown to be imitations of eternal ideas, their achievements wrongly targeted, their thoughts not at all their own. If you can survive this with your ego intact, let me know how, because after reading this, I'm not sure I can think or exist at all, and yet the stereogestures keep on flowing. Seriously though, this is a bloody good read, and the most thought-provoking (if blasphemous to the human ego) thing you can subject yourself to. If you've ever read a Kundera, this will better it, and if you want to but haven't yet, forget the rest and go for this. (Then get all the rest as well.) Oh what the hell, this is the best novel since sliced... JUST BUY IT!!!!!
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on 14 August 1999
Let me begin by saying that I am not a Milan Kundera specialist. I began my Kundera career reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Although I do not consider his works to be gospel, I do think that some enlightenment can be had from them. He disects human life in to its simplest form and puts those pieces on a plate for the reader to ingest. Please take of it as you will (because I do not believe you will leave empty handed)and make the conclusions that are pertinent to you, because I believe that his writings are made, deliberate on not deliberate, to be as such.
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on 13 January 1999
Milan Kundera reaches artistic nirvana with a work which perhaps sums up his ouevre. A sad, utterly compelling novel about life, love and how in our attempts to be immortal we forget about our current existence. A perfect balance in meeting the intellectual with the romantic; rarely achieved in novels even larger in scope. The story is even honest in that it is intertextual. A dazzling work by master craftsman.
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on 22 November 2012
In an opening with obvious Proustian overtones, the resistance of a gesture by an ageing dowager to properly conform to her maturity sparks off the construction of Kundera's novel. Construction is truly the word here, as we readers are invited from the inside into the author's process and Kundera obliges by laying open his various tricks and techniques to move the story along. The book, however, is less about that gesture and its properties than about coincidence, that long-time stalwart of the writer lost for plot connections. By employing this, Kundera manages to weave together the strands of his contemporary characters with sufficient clues for the intelligent reader to follow, but also telegraphs the signs to look for, leaving us knowing far more than the characters (and, it seems, the author) long in advance of the revelations of a new connection. There are two major problems with this. The first is that the aestheticised and intellectualised experience of life and sex by the characters is appallingly cold, distinctly lacking in humour and full of ominous portents. These latter turn into damp squibs when consequences arise because we find ourselves without a care for the aloof and emotionally retarded people who populate the novel, having anticipated their fate many pages before. The second is the inability for the best parts of the book, the historical sections that deal with immortality proper and exploring the reflexivity of figures who know themselves to be of historical importance or hope to be so, to interpolate with the lives and the story of the middle-class French dullards serving out their existence without enthusiasm in the rest of the book. Bettina and Goethe really are interesting, as Kundera shows, and quite deserving of their historical prominence even if this is due to entirely different methods to achieve it. The relationship between their vivid and dedicated attempts to control cultural memory and the fumblings of a modern and unimportant family (unimportant precisely because it is modern) without such driving forces makes the latter seem pathetic. Kundera's voice, so clearly at the surface of this novel, retains its fluent and calculating tone. Ultimately, he leaves us without knowing much about the fates of the people in which we are interested for the sake of the ones in which he clearly has a personal, and not historical, stake.
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