The Unbearable Lightness Of Being

Author: Milan Kundera

Genre: Philosophical Fiction

Is it fiction – a story of a young woman in love with an incorrigible womanizer? Is it history – documenting Czech life during the soviet occupation? Is it a political treatise – showing how the high ideals of communism denigrated into hypocrisy? Or is it philosophy – deeply exploring relationships and the ideal way to live?

Well, it is all of the above, and that is what makes this a modern classic. Many believe Kundera, now 90, is an ideal candidate for Nobel prize for this book. He has won many other awards including most recently the Franz Kafka prize. Kundera was a Czech but lived most of his life in exile in France as his country was occupied by Soviet forces. He wrote many novels, this being perhaps the most famous, but also The Joke and The Book Of Laughter and Forgetting. I was drawn to him since two of my favourites – Alain de Botton and Shashi Tharoor – drew inspiration from him and recommended him highly as a non-English fiction author to must read (others obviously being Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Chinua Achebe, both reviewed in my blog).

The plot is enthralling. Tomas is a serial womanizer (he claims to have slept with “two hundred, give or take a few” women). To him commitment was heavy, lightness was freedom. His philosophy is that “Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love 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).” He longed for multiple erotic encounters “not for pleasure (the pleasure came as an extra, a bonus) but for possession of the world…”. He wanted to see the individual ‘I’, the part that was unimaginable and lay hidden until a sexual encounter. He falls in love with Tereza but reflects that “his love for Tereza was beautiful, but it was also tiring: he had to constantly hide things from her… make amends…calm her down, give her evidence of his feelings…”. And so, “in spite of their love, they had made each other’s life a hell”.