Prior to reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being I was never quite sure what the book was about. It seemed to be one of those books that is hard to summarize. I would describe it as a book on relationships and sexual escapades with the backdrop of Czech politics. Main characters are Tomas the womanizer doctor, Tereza the naive country girl, and Sabina the free-thinker artist. The three of them make some kind of a love triangle with a twist. Who Tomas loves is really Tereza, but he also sleeps with Sabina even though he knows it tortures Teresa (hence tortures him too in a way). Sabina knows about Tomas and Tereza but doesn’t mind.
But really I just barely scratched the surface of what is in the book. There are many philosophical musings about love, life, relationship, politics, and the world. My did I enjoy them. The book is so so rich with ideas that I was in awe through and through!
The writing wasn’t exactly fantastic. The excessive parentheses especially annoyed me. Makes you wonder if they really came from Kundera himself in the original language. The book is translated from Czech by Michael Henry Heim, who is an award-winning translator. So I guess it was already in the best hand as far as translation goes. It also drove me a bit crazy when it talked about kitsch for several chapters. A few checks into dictionary and wikipedia didn’t get me very far. I’m still not sure if I understood.
But again, the ideas! How original! How thoughtful! How mind-bending! Anybody who could make politics seem so sexy must have exceptional talent! I chose to see the real strength of the book rather than the weakness–which now seems to be even less important. Boy oh boy how happy I was to finally try Kundera, who solidly earned his place on my favorite authors list. He must watch out because I’m going to go through his back catalogue!
I’d highly recommend the book for people who question lots of things in life, for those who experienced turmoil in their own country and might be forced to leave, or just those who enjoy discussions of out-of-the-box ideas. I enjoyed The Unbearable Lightness of Being immensely that I couldn’t give it anything other than
1984, 304 pp
The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!
“Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us. We read its message much as gypsies read the images made by coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup.” ~ p46
“She had come to him to escape her mother’s world, a world where all bodies were equal. She had come to him to make her body unique, irreplaceable. But he too, had drawn an equal sign between her and the rest of them: he kissed them all alike, stroked them alike, made no absolutely no distinction between Tereza’s body and the other bodies.” ~ p54
“Being in a foreign country means walking a tightrope high above the ground without the net afforded a person by the country where he has his family, colleagues, and friends, and where he can easily say what he has to say in a language he has known from childhood.” ~ p71
“What we have not chosen we cannot consider either our merit or our failure.” ~ p85
“The goals we pursue are always veiled. A girl who longs for marriage longs for something she knows nothing about. The boy who hankers after fame has no idea what fame is. The thing that gives our every move its meaning is always totally unknown to us.” ~ p119
“The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. … The novel is not the author’s confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become.” ~ p215
“Attaching love to sex is one of the most bizarre ideas the Creator ever had.” ~ p231
The Movie (1988)
The movie is played by Daniel Day-Lewis (of the Butcher in Gangs of New York) as Tomas and Juliette Binoche (who I knew from Catherine Earnshaw of the 1992 Wuthering Heights) as Tereza.
I thought Tereza was well-played, showing grace, youth, and innocence. But my gosh did I have problem with Tomas character in the film. I guess the main problem was, I did not find Day-Lewis sexy, so the whole Casanova thing he was meaning to pull did not work. The continuous smug smile on his face annoyed me as hell.
But you can kind of tell from the structure of the book, that a movie adaptation was not going to work well. The major (and the most crucial) portion of the book lies in the narrator and his philosophical musings, not the plot. Cinematic is great for showing plot and characters, but not deep inner thoughts.
With a bag of skepticism before going in though, I thought the film was somewhat decent for its ambition (it’s nominated for 1989 Oscar for Best Cinematography and Best Writing for Screenplay Based on Material from another Medium). It’s watchable, even if only for setting and lifestyle of the time and place. But it’s skipable for the non-fan of the book.