Book Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Several months ago, I found this 2013 Huffington Post article, 25 Books You Should While You’re Single and decided to put most or all of them on my TBR list. One of them was The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

The reason for a someone single rather than in a relationship to read Kundera’s novel is the following:

Because if you read this book while you are dating someone you will definitely, definitely break up.

This one sentence reason was one of the first things that made me intrigued about this novel. I found out pretty quickly that some deem this novel of Kundera’s as a classic and since I’ve been trying to read more ‘classics’ from time to time, I knew I had to read it. lightness-of-beingPlus, I’m single!

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera was a difficult read for me and mostly because it was very philosophical (Goodreads link). Because of that, I ended up referring to Spark Notes to help me understand what I read.

The main theme that resonated the most with me (or maybe it was the only part that I really understood) was that

… accepting the lightness of being means accepting a certain lack of ultimate meaning in life, and living for momentary beauty. (Spark Notes)

The Writing

Despite not always understanding philosophy and philosophical writing, I found Kundera’s writing to be easy to follow. Though I will say that there were some parts that lost me from time to time.

One thing that I enjoyed about his writing is that he provides a lot of examples, through small tangents, that frames the idea he is trying to get across to the reader. He even does it with the whole of the novel really, when he writes this within the first two pages of the novel:

There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, “sketch” is not quite a word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.

Which is why we must live for the moment we are in; live for the beauty of the moment we are currently experiencing.

The Characters

To be honest, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, but I don’t think that took away from the overall message(s) that the Kundera was giving through this novel.

There’s Tomas who has a love for all women and sleeping with them. However, it isn’t difficult for him to come to love Tereza deeply. However, his loves for both stay more or less equal. He marries Tereza, but continues his exploits with other women.

Tereza starts out as a sweet and naive young woman who falls for Tomas and moves in with him to escape her small village and her mother.

Then there’s Sabine, an artist. In the beginning, she’s one of Tomas’ lovers. But after Prague is occupied, she moves to Switzerland and starts up with another married man who becomes loyal to her. Unfortunately, Sabine never cared if she were married to the man or not and soon leaves the country. She continues to move throughout the years until she retires in California.

I really saw these characters as instruments for the story to illustrate the different themes and messages.

“Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions.”

Ultimately, I’m glad I read this novel and I definitely would not want to read it while in a relationship. I don’t think a book could break us up, but still.

This was a slightly different review, but what do you think – will be picking this novel up any time soon? Have you read it already?

XO Nicole

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