Saturday, October 21, 2017

Milan Kundera - The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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. 

Comment: I bought this book in Portuguese last year because I had known about for a long time and it hasn't escaped me the notion it was considered by many as a classic of modern literature. I didn't have many expectations, apart from hoping this would be an engrossing and interesting read.

In this book, the author gives us a fictional story while also using real life details about the Russian occupation of Czechoslovak in 1968. The whole story is filled with philosophical content and saying, some one can recognize, others the author invented but in the center of it all are four main characters, Tomaz, Tereza, Sabina and Franz, whose lives follow paths always dictated by their attitudes and wishes and hopes and little traits.

For me, what made the reading of this book easier was the graphic manner in which it is presented. There are six major sections and each of those sections is divided into many sort of "chapters" and this makes reading very easy. The "chapters" are often the size of one page, therefore it seems we advance very quickly in the reading and that certainly makes for an easier task and to try to decode each sentence and detail.

I've also read some reviews about the book, some claim this is a work of literary art, others say it's pretentious and overrated. I would say my opinion falls more into the middle.
The author has many ideas and opinions, especially political and social, and he uses the characters to put in evidence some of those notions and ideas. I don't think this is a bad attempt, it does help when it comes to make it easier to understand some definitions the reader might be struggling with but at the same time, the characters lose their individuality and it can be very complicated for the reader to connect with those characters and their actions.

While reading, the introspective and rhetoric questions the author puts out there can be immensely provocative. I think the best part of the story was precisely this and the philosophical questions pertinent. I just don't know if the reader can read and process them that well, considering the opinion the author seems to be about one's body as a means to express something. Most of the characters' actions are defined by how much sex they have and why. It's just a bit off putting to have everything connected to that and not processed differently.

The problem with this method of presenting/writing a book is that it can easily be dismissed because it feels the essential isn't well focused and lots of other secondary things remove the greatness out of the key elements. I guess it also depends on how invested the reader truly is but...
The notions of love and being, probably two of the things discussed the longest (along with politics) in the book just seem too subjective and basically one should end up thinking both aren't tethered to anything after all.

At the end of this book, some scenes happen that made me rethink some of my ideas. Up to then, I could see the characters as handy metaphors for a lot of things in life but the allegories and figures of expression used ad nauseum also have the ability to distance your self from their purpose, so...I guess the overall plot, related to the four main characters and their lives, their choices is just too random and out of place and I can't seem to accept people are so liberal about others' feelings.
All in all, an interesting narrative, ideas, notions and reflections but the detailed sexual adventures of the characters hasn't much to do with enjoying the philosophy of this novel, something not always clear to me anyway.
Grade: 5/10

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