By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

By the Book #3 – The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Who are we? What are we? What defines us? Can we be one thing, but also the complete opposite at the same time? Read on if you want to find out what this book is about!

Do you ever feel like you’re filled with contradictions? I do. Take the holidays, for example: on the one hand, I love them because the extra time allows me to read all the books that I otherwise just never seem to get to. On the other hand, because I have so much spare time on my hands, my brains start to relax too. As a result, my intelligence slowly seeps away the longer the holidays go on and the higher the temperatures get. This was exactly the case when I read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. While I really, really loved this book, I can’t help but thinking I missed some of its intricate philosophical ideas. Can you love a book without being sure that you understood everything that’s in it? Isn’t that a contradiction? In this case, I don’t think so.

This book is about seemingly conflicting ideas. About weight and lightness, about body and soul, and about identity and words – their meaning, and how they can be misunderstood. Each topic is discussed in a different part, and is about a different character. Central in the book are lovers Tomas and Tereza, and their friends and friends of them. But while Tomas does love his wife, he always has a wide variety of lovers. Tereza, on the other hand, can’t stand the idea of having to share her husband with anyone else. They not only have to deal with their own lives, but also with the changes they have to face when their country, Czechoslovakia, is taken over by Russia during the Prague Spring. This adds yet another aspect to this already very rich book: what happens when your country is on the brink of revolution?

What this book does, more than any other I’ve recently read, is ask questions. What is lightness, what is weight? How do we attach meaning to language? When is something unbearable? And what do these words mean, anyway? What I loved so much about this book is how it made me really think – well, as I explained in the introduction, I tried my very hardest to make my brains to anything at all – about all these philosophical ideas, and how seemingly contradictory theories can very well both be valid.

The main idea of this book is based on Nietzsche’s theory of eternal occurrence; everything has already happened and will forever happen again. On the very first page, Kundera fights this idea, and his characters show it. And that’s how everything comes together: how would you live your life if you can only do it once? What would make you happy? What, in other words, would give you meaning? Something might be very meaningful to one person, but doesn’t mean anything for the other. Kundera shows us that it’s all in the eye of the beholder – and that that can be quite confusing for everyone involved.

So, have you read this book? What did you think of it? Do you have a clear idea about what gives your life meaning? Let me know in the comments!

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