The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera


It is funny that I always thought Milan Kundera was an Indian person and this book about politics and bureaucracy. Whereas my first assumpton failed badly, the second was touching the truth somewhat.  Well, Milan Kundera is a Czech who had been expelled from the country when Russia captured it and has been living in France since. The story is formed with the background as the Czechoslovakia which was captured by the Russians and the resulting spread of communism, its threat, the expulsion and execution of intellectuals. Among all this is, at the centre of it, is a sad love story of philandering Tomas and agonizing Tereza. Tomas’ sexual appetite is not fulfilled by one or two. He has to explore the minutest differences that women have while making love. Tereza knwos this and outwardly she tries to be fine but her heart wishes Tomas to be only her’s alone. She has weird dreams about it and cries. Sabina is a particular mistress of Tomas who is also a friend and an artist and finds a romantic love in betrayal of everything that connects her to her former life. After Tomas leaves she is with Franz, a professor, who is trying to escpae from her superficial wife whom he respects but not loves, into the cult and the dreamworld that he has created with Sabina. The day when he leaves everything for Sabina, she leaves him because she can do nothing but betray.

The book is a philosophical musing about eternity and the meaning of our actions if they were to be repeated again and again and again. He says that since our actions happen only once, they can have no meaning as such, because what has happened is as good as it might not have happened at all. It is here that he poses the paradox, sort of, that despite the fact that our actions have no meaning at all as such, even the smallest of them impact our lives in tremendous ways. We keep longing for lightness, for what we not have and when we have got it, there is a sorrow, a sort of guilt that remains for leaving the heaviness.

The gist that I got is that the lightness implies being not able to care or to care, depending upon each person. But, if one does not care, the person is constantly riddled with the pressure and the guilt forcing him that he should care. And if he cares, he is constantly craving for not caring. In either case, the state of lightness becomes unbearable. Although I enjoyed the melancholy sweetness of the novel, a sad love story painted with the russian invasion of czechoslovakia, I am afraid to say that I think that I have not fully understood it. I will have to read it again to get a real good grasp. On surface, I understand the philosophy that the author tries to expound, that one’s actions are neither good nor bad and cannot be judged because they are never to be repeated and hence are of one time nature and inconsequential. So, we must not have much value attached to the actions that we take and yet these seemingly insignificant things affect our lives in most insignificant of ways, deciding whether the happiness exists or not. There is lot of soul searching in here, things abt communism, religion,kitsch, purpose of life etc. It is a rich book and a good book for thought. I shall have to read it again and I think I will do.

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