Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Unbearable Lightness of Being [1984]

Milan Kundera’s most famous work The Unbearable Lightness of Being can be described in a multitude of ways – as an exercise in pop-philosophy, a romantic comedy, a tragedy of the times, a book on love, a political commentary, a depiction of the inter-connectedness of human fate, or perhaps a combined journal of various people’s lives and thinking. Consequently, it may work very well for some for its poetic style, satirical observations and concoction of such diverse range of thematic concerns, while not so much for others on account of the rambling nature of narrative that goes everywhere and nowhere. But, irrespective of which of the two groups one belongs to, one is sure to find this a lucid, breezy, absorbing and humorous read. Set during the most volatile period in contemporary Czech history – the end of Prague Spring with the onslaught of Soviet tanks to its forced occupation under the draconian Soviet regime – it focused on a group of characters grappling between matters of the heart and those of the state. The light-footed narrative strand, therefore, kept shifting between the various characters – Tomáš, a divorced surgeon and intellectual who is morally opposed to the occupation, loses his job upon writing an inflammatory article comparing the Communist rulers with Oedipus, and is an insanely prolific womanizer; Tereza, Tomáš’ young wife and a dissident photojournalist who’s torn between her love for him and his casual infidelities; Sabina, a painter and Tomáš’ mistress who hates anything to do with puritanism, kitsch and attachments; Franz, a Swiss professor who leaves his family for Sabina and attempts going to Cabodia in his futile attempt at political activism; and, curiously, Karenin, Tereza’s pet dog. Kundera filled the novel with wit, irreverence, innuendos, warmth, philosophical musings and a subtle dose of melancholia, and in a tone that was charming and light-hearted, and a style that was disarmingly simple despite the heavy content.

Author: Milan Kundera
Genre: Philosophical Fiction/Comedy/Political Drama/Romance/Modernist Literature
Language: Czech
Country: France