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Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí In The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera tells the story of a young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing and one of his mistresses and her humbly faithful lover This magnificent novel juxtaposes geographically distant places brilliant and playful reflections and a variety of styles to take its place as perhaps the major achievement of one of the world’s truly great writers The Unbelievable Lightness of The Novel I had started reading this in 2008 and had gotten along uite a bit before I stopped reading the book for some reason and then it was forgotten Recently I saw the book in a bookstore and realized that I hadn't finished it I picked it up and started it all over again since I was not entirely sure where I had left off last time I was sure however that I had not read than say 30 pages or so I definitely could not remember reading it for a long period of time I only remembered starting it and bits and pieces about infidelities and the russian occupation of the Czech And so I started reading it sure that soon a page will come from where the story will be fresh and unread I was soon into the fiftieth page and was amazed that as I read each page I could distinctly remember every scene every philosophical argument even the exact uotes and the seuence of events that was to come immediately after the scene I was reading But I could never remember try as I might what was coming two pages further into the novel This is what comes from reading serious books lightly and not giving them the attention they deserve I chastised myself angry at the thought that my habit of reading multiple books in parallel must have been the cause of this I must at the risk of appearing boastful say that the reason this bothered so much was that I always used to take pride in being able to remember the books that I read almost verbatim and this experience of reading a book that I had read before with this sense of knowing and forgetting at the same time the two sensations running circles around each other and teasing me was completely disorienting I felt like I was on some surreal world where all that is to come was already known to me but was still being revealed one step out of tune with my timeIn any case this continued to my bewilderment well into the two hundredth page Even now I could not shake the constant expectation that the story was going to go into unread new territories just 2 or 3 pages ahead of where I was Every line I read I could remember having read before and in spite of making this mistake through so many pages I still could not but tell myself that this time surely I have reached the part where I must have last closed the book three years agoThus I have now reached the last few pages of the book and am still trying to come to terms with what it was about this novel that made me forget it even though I identified with the views of the author and was never bored with the plot Was this an intentional effect or just an aberration? Will I have the same feeling if I picked up the book again a few years from today? I also feel a slight anger towards the author for playing this trick on me for leading me on into reading the entire book again without giving me anything new which I had not received from the book on my first reading Usually when I decide to read a book again I do it with the knowledge that I will gain something new with this reading but Kundera gave me none of thatWhat I do appreciate about this reading experience is this as is stated in the novel anything that happens only once might as well have not happened at all does it then apply that any novel that can be read only once might as well have not been read at all?Beethoven The Art of The SublimeTo conclude I will recount an argument from the book that in retrospect helps me explain the experienceKundera talks yes the book is full of Kundera ripping apart the 'Fourth Wall' and talking to the reader to the characters and even to himself about an anecdote on how Beethoven came to compose one of his best uartets due to inspiration from a silly joke he had shared with a friend So Beethoven turned a frivolous inspiration into a serious uartet a joke into metaphysical truth Yet oddly enough the transformation fails to surprise us We would have been shocked on the other hand if Beethoven had transformed the seriousness of his uartet into the trifling joke First as an unfinished sketch would have come the great metaphysical truth and last as a finished masterpiece—the most frivolous of jokes I would like to think that Kundera achieved this reverse proposition with this novel and that explains how I felt about it And yes I finished reading the second last line of the book with the full awareness of what the last line of the novel was going to be I was hesitant to start this and figured for awhile that it would be one of those books that maybe I’d get around to or maybe I wouldn’t It just didn’t seem like something I’d enjoy – it seemed too soft or too postmodern or too feel good or too based in hedonism or too surface oriented What caused me to give it a shot was the simple fact that I’ll be traveling to Prague in a few weeks and since the book's setting takes place there I figured it may put me in the mood for the trip I figured it was “now or never” in regards to reading it And yet even with that being the case I hesitated a bit That is until the mere mentioning it received an almost overzealously positive response from two close friends whose opinions I hold in high regard Their response was so enthusiastic that I was pushed over the edge; shoved into thinking that the novel’s chances of being lame had been lessened and that it would be worth the trialAnd I’m glad I decided to give this book a shot Damn gladThe novel traces the lives of two couples during the Soviet occupation of Prague during the late 1960’s The novel deep heartedly charts their struggles against communism their pasts their lovers and themselvesKundera observes the stuff that goes on internally amongst the characters; he intellectualizes it and tells you about it He’s uite philosophical and you feel like the narrator is talking to you offering very insightful observations about the characters and life in general This is one reason why reading is often valuable than watching TV or a movie when reading a good book you get direct psychological explanations and you get to go inside the heads of charactersTaken as a whole I found this novel to be profound but in unusual ways It’s not a direct novel but rather one that represents and lets one feel disconnections and various glimpses of perceptions And it wasn’t a smooth novel either It even felt choppy on occasion But the chapters are short which fits its feel and also gives you time to think about the penetrating thoughts that Kundera puts across Kundera strikes me as a craftsman of sorts He switches timelines deftly and effectively – even when I thought he was crazy to do so; when I thought he gave up the climax of the novel towards its middle he proved me dead wrong He proved to me that he knew exactly what he was doing because he’s a master of the craft This novel is not full of sweeping pounding paragraphs of poignant soul hitting philosophical depth but rather offers up constant glimpses; nuggets of insightful observations on almost every page that when added up together reveal an impressive heartfelt and real work I love the way this novel portrays love It recognizes and represents its beauty while at the same time showing how psychological and manipulatable it can be The loves in this novel are accurate ones not at all cheapened by gimmicky slogans or conventional lines The dance seemed to him a declaration that her devotion her ardent desire to satisfy his every whim was not necessarily bound to his person that if she hadn't met Tomas she would have been ready to respond to the call of any other man she might have met instead Kundera brilliantly portrays how simple things like our past our country images family – even metaphors can affect our psyche and major life decisions Tomas did not realize at the time that metaphors are dangerous Metaphors are not to be trifled with A single metaphor can give birth to love Its fragility and delicacy What would happen if Tomas were to receive such a picture? Would he throw her out? Perhaps not Probably not But the fragile edifice of their love would certainly come tumbling down For that edifice rested on the single column of her fidelity and loves are like empires when the idea they are founded on crumbles they too fade away Perhaps if they had stayed together longer Sabina and Franz would have begun to understand the words they used Gradually timorously their vocabularies would have come together like bashful lovers and the music of one would have begun to intersect with the music of the other But it was too late now Sometimes even one sentence can say a lot Looking out over the courtyard at the dirty walls he realized he had no idea whether it was hysteria or love While people are fairly young and the musical composition of their lives is still in its opening bars they can go about writing it together and exchange motifs the way Tomas and Sabina exchanged the motif of the bowler hat but if they meet when they are older like Franz and Sabina their musical compositions are or less complete and every motif every object every word means something different to each of them And it’s worth reiterating that the philosophical ideas in this novel are very thought provoking Tomas thought Attaching love to sex is one of the most bizarre ideas the Creator ever had The importance of our decisions The lack of importance of our decisions The unavoidable importance of life The unavoidable lack of importance of life That's how this novel feelsIf I'm to give a book five stars it needs to affect me in some profound ways it needs to change me at least a little This novel has affected my view of life; how I see the world Specifically it’s helped me better understand beauty I have trouble elaborating on that because beauty is such an abstract concept; you know it when you see it or rather— you know it when you feel it Beauty has some melancholy; it is appreciative special but fleeting and never fully absorbed as its full whole Maybe that's a major aspect of beauty knowing it is beyond your grasp Beyond you Life is ultimately a crapshoot You don't know what's going to happen You might as well hang on to something And that something might as well be love whether it be plutonic romantic or if you’re lucky both And if that's what you're going to hang on to and you are then you might as well understand its simplicity and its complexity and its beauty you might as well understand and appreciate as much of it as you can It only makes sense that you doThis novel can help you do that This review is sung by Freddy Mercury to the tune of Bohemian RhapsodyIs this a fiction?Is this just fantasy?Not just a narrativeOf Czech infidelityReader four eyesLook onto the page and readI'm just a Prague boy I’ve sex with empathyBecause I'm easy come easy goA little high little lowAny Soviet era Czech knows unbearable lightness of beingGood Reads just read a bookPut a bookmark on the pagePlayed my audio now it’s readGood Reads the book had just begunBut now I've read all Milan had to sayGood Reads oooDidn't mean to make you sighIf I'm not back again this time tomorrowCarry on carry on unbearable lightness of beingToo late this book is doneA short book no need to break the spineBody’s just egalitarianGood read everybody – I’ll say soGotta leave you all behind and face the truthGood Reads ooo any Soviet era Czech knowsI don't want the book to endI sometimes wish I'd never started to read at allI read a little dialogue from of a manTomas Tomas will you make love to Teresa?Thunderbolt and lightning very nearly enticing meRepetition RepetitionRepetition RepetitionRepetition Kundera– MetaphorBut I'm just a Prague boy and many women love meHe's just a Prague boy from a Czech familyFlair is his prose from this virtuosityEasy come easy go will you let me goBohemia No we will not let you go let him goBohemia We will not let you go let him goBohemia We will not let you go let me goWill not let you go let me go neverNever let you go let me goNever let me go oooNo no no no no no noOh Milan Kundera Milan Kundera says its soPremier Brezhnev has a gulag put aside for meFor meFor meBrian May melts our faces with a blistering guitar solo while Wayne and Garth head bang in a PacerSoviet tanks can occupy and eat our pieNaked women can sing and leave me to dieOh Milan Kant German sex MilanJust gotta go Swiss just gotta get right outta hereOoh yeah ooh yeahUnbearable lightnessAnyone can readUnbearable lightness unbearable lightness of beingAny Soviet era Czech knows There is probably one novel that is the most responsible for the direction of my post graduation European backpacking trip ten years ago which landed me in Prague for two solid weeks Shortly before my friend Chad and I departed he mailed me a letter and directed me to get my hands on a copy of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being Just read it he wrote Whatever else you do just read this book It is about everything in the worldBeing already a Kafka fan of some long standing I was uite open to another absurdly minded Czech telling the story of his city and by extension the rest of the world The title itself was familiar though not the author’s name and I rather innocently mistook Kundera for a woman at first glance at the cover Suffice to say Kundera had me at the very first paragraph Has any other modern novel had such a wonderfully philosophical opening than this one?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 What does this mad myth signify?In two sentences the very first two Kundera not only manages to break several writing rules of style an exclamation mark followed by a direct address to the reader being the most obvious but he also succinctly sums up one of the most challenging philosophical concepts yet is wise enough to address it on its own terms as a “mad myth”From the earliest possible chance the author is telling us that he is indeed an intellectual that he writes energetically playfully and that serious Ideas with the full timbre basso profundo tolling out that capital “I” are the very pith and marrow of novels and are not to be stuffed labeled and set up high on a shelf reserved for great thoughts too refined and delicate to mingle among the common rabble of characters and dialogue and actionNeedless to say this is a heady mix the kind of thing to go straight to a recent college graduate with literature and philosophy on the brain And we haven’t even touched on the sex yet Kundera’s books are rife with sex sex is the other engine driving this dually powered writer sex both passionate and routine sex filled up with deep emotional meaning and sex stripped down to its tangible physicality sex as recurring motif in one’s life illuminating greater insights into one’s personality and sex as secret door into the aesthetics of our timeTo write as some have that the book is primarily about erotic encounters is as much as to say that Beethoven was a guy who played piano Instead it is a book about tyranny the large and the small the ones we endure and the ones we resist the ones we submit to for love and the ones that always rankle silently The tyranny of kitsch as understood by the novel kitsch to mean a subjective sentimental folding screen that hides away the sight of death The uestions that the book seeks to explore circle around the ideas of polar opposites truth and lies love and hate or indifference freedom and slavery heaviness and lightnessThe Kundera style is a very delightful bit and piecework manner We focus on one character that character’s perceptions that character’s perspectives in little miniatures some essay like that elaborate on the character’s psychology or history Then we shift to another character and learn new things about that person sometimes touching on the same pieces we’ve seen already It’s like Rashomon but expansive drawing circles around lives and eras instead of merely one night’s eventsPart of what Kundera does is move the story along through first one person then go back in time and retell only some of that story focused on a second person and demonstrate how our best attempts at comprehending each other remains woefully inadeuate There will always be layers fathoms below our drilling Yet at the same time Kundera moves the story forward stops switches character again and in this third instance either goes back to person number one or switches to person number three and repeats the process and repeats again What emerges is rather like conflicting court testimony multiple moving parts simultaneously illuminating their own motivations and obscuring others’If there is a weakness to all of this it is that Kundera’s novels sometimes develop the uality of theoretical exercises between characters embodying certain philosophical conceits While the author may touch the mind and the libido the heart often remains chilly There is a sense of artificiality when you stare too longly at the book’s constructs as though the author were merely embodying an essay with puppets for illustrative purposes Though what precisely does lie behind our disagreements and disconnections from others than differing mental states? We fall out of love with someone not because of the size of her bottom or his new haircut but because our lives shift in differing directions and we can no longer think in the same cohesive manner with the other person Our ideas become different What are our wants but our ideas given concrete form and targets?“Metaphors are dangerous” the author writes than once throughout the novel “Metaphors are not be trifled with A single metaphor can give birth to love” So thinks the novel’s “hero” Tomas the epic womanizer as he reflects on how he came to love Tereza who is soon his wife This couple a marriage dancing around secrets and each of the partner’s inability to communicate finally the truth about who they are to their spouse is used for comparison and contrast with Franz a middle aged married professor in Switzerland who is in love with one of Tomas’ exiled Czech mistresses the artist Sabine Their stories are told against the backdrop of the Russian invasion and subjugation of Czechoslovakia during the Cold WarKundera twines their two stories together examining how love can either lift us up to heights of ecstasy or weigh us down with its solidity and unchangeable reality — then poses the surprising uestion which condition should we view as the negative in binary opposition? Is it the uncentered lack of gravity that makes love real and powerful or does that uality make us too airy and flighty unserious when we most need it? Or rather can it be love’s grounding uality that allows us to feel with stability the other’s existence — or does that weight merely pin us down smother us with its heft? Can it be both? Can it be that when couples part it is because what is lighter than a breeze for one has become a leaden drag on the other?This is push and pull of ideas and language and sentiments is beautifully illustrated in the novel’s third part titled “Words Misunderstood” in which Kundera examines how Sabina and Franz’s inability to understand the terms the other uses leads to their separation This is done through a sort of anecdotal dictionary that allows each character to demonstrate their grasp of an idea The shortest bluntly captures some of the magic of this portion CEMETERY Cemeteries in Bohemia are like gardens The graves are covered with grass and colorful flowers Modest tombstones are lost in the greenery When the sun goes down the cemetery sparkles with tiny candles It looks as though the dead are dancing at a children’s ball Yes a children’s ball because the dead are as innocent as children No matter how brutal life becomes peace always reigns in the cemetery Even in wartime in Hitler’s time in Stalin’s time through all occupations When she felt low Sabina would get into the car leave Prague far behind and walk through one or another of the country cemeteries she loved so well Against a backdrop of blue hills they were as beautiful as a lullaby For Franz a cemetery was an ugly dump of stones and bonesAnd this too is part of the novel’s recurring genius At every stage there is an elegiac note to happiness as though all these dances have been gone through before as though all love affairs even should Nietzsche be wrong carry within them the seeds of their own endings Franz and Sabina’s inability to even understand each other on very basic levels dooms their romance from the beginning Their tragedy is commonplace and follows a pattern as though ritualizedTereza and Tomas’ marriage we see is held together only by each other’s willingness to commit to it and to some third greater thing than either of themselves though what that third thing is neither of them understand For each of them separately it is a kind of death to be together and a kind of death to be apart and together their momentary happinesses are a kind of staving off of this specterKundera nicely ends The Unbearable Lightness of Being foreshadowing what happens later after the closing scenes which gives the novel a sadly sweet tone instead of merely tragic Instead of simply ending with death as a kind of negation the book closes with sleep part of the circling motif the cycle we go through our lives one passing hoopAfter my initial reading of the novel I found myself rereading it immediately going through all of it again underlining passages committing certain ones to memory Over the years I have returned again and again to this novel than many others much than Kundera’s other novels despite my having read them repeatedly as well To return to Kundera’s world is like reliving your best relationships and maybe your worst ones as well but reliving them as though you had been smarter wiser deeper at the time than you really were It is a kind of exorcism and a kind of nostalgia and it is a beautiful example of writing that matters beyond all else writing that matters

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