For ordinary readers looking for a light read, I can assure you: “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” can be unbearable for you. Though raised and educated in the mid-20th century France, the author Milan Kundera is Czech by birth. Therefore, we readers can expect what is so typical of Soviet-era Eastern European writings…replete with melancholy and drab colours, even when the backdrop of the story hovers between Zurich, Vienna and Prague.
However, there are several excellent qualities that make it worthy of read.
Reading the book is akin to what a man feels when he takes a stroll in the park, sees a beautiful stranger, brings her home and afterwards sleeps with her. Then, he starts peeling in detail, layer by layer, on that fleeting experience with the stranger. What does the experience of being in love feel like? When we love someone, does the volition to own the other’s body necessarily carry the weight of unifying one’s body to the partner’s? Is the activity of sex an obligation, a pursuit of pleasure, or both? How can love carry more weight when it is devoid of sex (and vice versa)?
Consider this example. The main female protagonist of the story, Tereza, is married to a man, Tomas, who sleeps around with other women. She is fully aware of this fact, yet she willingly gives in to Tomas’ pursuits of outside pleasures, since she contends that he is merely satisfying the bodily needs while his soul belongs to her alone.
Or is it so?
Because at times she postulates that since the activity of sex itself does not necessarily define the emotions of love with it, she should be perfectly fine with it. In other words, she is not jealous of her husband when he seeks pleasure from other women. She is only jealous when her body is treated like other women’s. On this aspect, she compartmentalises herself, becoming a detached observer to the marital conundrums.
The banality of life is another interesting topic that Kundera has touched with his two separate yet interconnected stories. When the pleasures of life have become one’s routine, is it possible to rekindle the flames that had once surfaced when we experienced it for the first time? For example, going on a hike for the 100th time may not carry the same excitement and adrenaline rush as when we were about to do it for the first time ever. Marital and love can also carry out the same dissatisfaction due to this very reason: it becomes banal.
Though the topics dealt in the book revolve around love and pleasure, this is not a romance book. Far from it, even. Kundera has peeled each of the layers that each of us carries when the notion of romantic love, namely eros, and helps us to define how we see them and why we see them the way we do. We may not agree with his opinions, but at least we can give them a try.
Verdict: 8 out of 10 stars