The title that intrigues, the intricacies of the human behaviour woven into words, love and its ramifications, and the beautiful prose… Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of the Being has everything which makes a book click for me! The only regret I have after reading it is why did I wait for so long to tick this off my TBR list!!
The novel is set in Prague during the times of Russian occupation of Czech. Tomas loves his second wife Teresa but is a hedonist with numerous mistresses. Teresa loves him dearly in spite of knowing about it all! Sabina is Tomas’s mistress and his best friend. A Professor Franz (also married) loves Sabina as well! It’s all the complications that love, betrayal, the quest for happiness, relationships and emotions can bring into one’s life. Kundera writes about the philosophy of life and love using these characters. It portrays the different shades of love in a very profound way. It shows you the dark side of love along, love that is more like religion than a mere emotion!Last few pages of the book were very satisfying… Proper closure for the book as well as the lives of the main characters.
And now about the book, the title and the philosophy! The oxymoron in the title itself is so captivating… If it is lightness, why is it unbearable?? Kundera has explicitly mentioned ‘unbearable lightness of being’ throughout the book! In Sabina’s context, he says that Sabina left a man and felt the lightness, unbearable lightness and not a burden or ‘heaviness’.
“When we want to give expression to a dramatic situation in our lives, we tend to use metaphors of heaviness. We say that something has become a great burden to us. We either bear the burden or fail and go down with it, we struggle with it, win or lose. And Sabina – what had come over her? Nothing. She had left a man because she felt like leaving him. Had he persecuted her? Had he tried to take revenge on her? No. Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness. What fell to her lot was not the burden, but the unbearable lightness of being.”
At some point, he refers to Plato’s symposium of people being hermaphrodites and the search that follows for the rest of their life! In his own words:
“Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost”
Sometimes, the search ends in one person and at times, no single person seems fit to be the lost half! All the characters were looking for that other half throughout!
The idea that the choices that we make in this life cannot be compared to any other life, for we have only one life is the reason we should not think/feel of them as a burden.That’s where the whole lightness of being comes from.
Author has been very thoughtful and observant about all the tiny thoughts and agitations of the characters. I might not have liked all of them or agreed to their actions but it did make me think and relate to lot of things! The vulnerability that the author brought to the characters made them real in lot of ways! It sheds light on human imperfections beautifully!
This was in the first few pages of the book:
“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
“A single metaphor can give birth to love”
“The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful … Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.”
“There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, “sketch” is not quite a word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.”
“The goals we pursue are always veiled. A girl who longs for marriage longs for something she knows nothing about. The boy who hankers after fame has no idea what fame is. The thing that gives our every move its meaning is always totally unknown to us.”
“Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions.”
“Sometimes you make up your mind about something without knowing why, and your decision persists by the power of inertia. Every year it gets harder to change.”
“The moment someone keeps an eye on what we do, we involuntarily make allowances for that eye, and nothing we do is truthful. Having a public, keeping a public in mind, means living in lies…