Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Review of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

This novel is a strange mixture of romance, philosophy and history, detailing the intertwining love lives of four Czechs living in a police state. The title refers to the idea that things that are repeated endlessly throughout history – things like love and war – thereby gain weight, value, whereas the uniqueness of a person’s life lends it the opposite qualities. Tomas, Tereza, Sabina and Franz are the minutely realised protagonists in this existential drama, each very different, but with a unifying similarities. And don’t forget Karenin, the gender-confused dog.

What’s really interesting about this book is the element of social history. We see the humiliating helplessness Czechoslovakia was subjected to under Soviet hegemony. Tomas descends from highly respected surgeon to window cleaner because he refuses to retract a statement which the regime wilfully misinterprets. Although this semi-self-imposed career change does wonders for his love life.

Being is a dry but fascinating book, full of philosophical reflections, subtle ironies, well-drawn characterisation, and ultimately humanises all its potentially pretentious asides with a sentimental, nicely sad ending.

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