The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Overview
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), written by Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera , born 1 April 1929, is a writer of Czech origin who has lived in exile in France since 1975, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1981. He is best known as the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and The Joke. Kundera has written in...

, is a philosophical
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 novel about two men, two women, a dog and their lives in the Prague Spring
Prague Spring
The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II...

 of the Czechoslovak Communist period in 1968. Although written in 1982, the novel was not published until two years later, in France. Original titles are and .
The Unbearable Lightness of Being takes place mainly in Prague
Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

 in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Encyclopedia
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), written by Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera , born 1 April 1929, is a writer of Czech origin who has lived in exile in France since 1975, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1981. He is best known as the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and The Joke. Kundera has written in...

, is a philosophical
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 novel about two men, two women, a dog and their lives in the Prague Spring
Prague Spring
The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II...

 of the Czechoslovak Communist period in 1968. Although written in 1982, the novel was not published until two years later, in France. Original titles are and .

Premise

The Unbearable Lightness of Being takes place mainly in Prague
Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

 in the late 1960s and 1970s. It explores the artistic and intellectual life of Czech society during the Communist period, from the Prague Spring to the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

’s August 1968 invasion and its aftermath. The main characters are Tomáš, a surgeon; his wife Tereza, a photographer anguished by her husband's infidelities; Tomáš’s lover Sabina, a free-spirited artist; and Franz, a Swiss university professor and lover of Sabina; and Simon, Tomáš’ estranged son from an earlier marriage.

Characters

  • Tomáš - A Czech surgeon and intellectual. Tomáš is a womanizer who lives for his work. He considers sex and love to be distinct entities: he copulates with many women but loves only his wife, Tereza. He sees no contradiction between these two positions. He explains womanizing as an imperative to explore female idiosyncrasies only expressed during sex. At first he views his wife as a burden whom he is obligated to take care of. After the Russian invasion, they escape to Zurich where he starts womanising again. Tereza, homesick, returns to Prague with the dog. He quickly realises he wants to be with her and follows her home. He has to deal with the consequences of a letter to the editor in which he metaphorically likened the Czech Communists to Oedipus
    Oedipus
    Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...

    . Eventually fed up with life in Prague under the communist regime, he moves to the country with Tereza. He abandons his twin obsessions of work and womanizing and discovers true happiness with Tereza. His epitaph, written by his Christian son, is He Wanted the Kingdom of God on Earth.

  • Tereza - Young wife of Tomáš. A gentle, intellectual photographer, she delves into dangerous and dissident
    Dissident
    A dissident, broadly defined, is a person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution. When dissidents unite for a common cause they often effect a dissident movement....

     photojournalism during the Soviet occupation of Prague. Tereza does not condemn Tomáš for his infidelities, instead characterizing herself as a weaker person. Tereza is mostly defined by her view of the body as disgusting and shameful, due to her mother's embrace of the body's grotesque functions. Throughout the book she fears simply being another body in Tomáš's array of women. Once Tomáš and Tereza move to the countryside she devotes herself to raising cattle and reading. During this time she becomes fond of animals, reaching the conclusion that they were the last link to the paradise
    Paradise
    Paradise is a place in which existence is positive, harmonious and timeless. It is conceptually a counter-image of the miseries of human civilization, and in paradise there is only peace, prosperity, and happiness. Paradise is a place of contentment, but it is not necessarily a land of luxury and...

     abandoned by Adam and Eve
    Adam and Eve
    Adam and Eve were, according to the Genesis creation narratives, the first human couple to inhabit Earth, created by YHWH, the God of the ancient Hebrews...

    , and becomes alienated from other people.

  • Sabina - Tomáš' mistress and closest friend. Sabina lives her life as an extreme example of lightness, taking profound satisfaction in the act of betrayal. She declares war on kitsch
    Kitsch
    Kitsch is a form of art that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style of art or a worthless imitation of art of recognized value. The concept is associated with the deliberate use of elements that may be thought of as cultural icons while making cheap mass-produced objects that...

     and struggles against the constraints imposed by her puritan ancestry and the Communist party. This struggle is shown through her paintings. She occasionally expresses excitement at humiliation, shown through the use of her grandfather's bowler hat, a symbol that is born during one sexual encounter with Tomáš, before it eventually changes meaning and becomes a relic of the past. Later in the novel she begins to correspond with Simon while living under the roof of some older Americans who admire her artistic skill. She expresses her desire to be cremated and thrown to the winds after death - a last symbol of eternal lightness.

  • Franz - Sabina's lover and a Geneva professor and idealist. Franz falls in love with Sabina whom he considers a liberal and romantically tragic Czech dissident. Sabina considers both of those identities kitsch. He is a kind and compassionate man. As one of the novel's dreamers, he bases his actions on loyalty to the memories of his mother and of Sabina. His life revolves completely around books and academia eventually to the extent that he seeks lightness and ecstasy by participating in marches and protests, the last of which is a march in Thailand
    Thailand
    Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

     to the Cambodia
    Cambodia
    Cambodia , officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia...

    n border. In Bangkok
    Bangkok
    Bangkok is the capital and largest urban area city in Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or simply Krung Thep , meaning "city of angels." The full name of Bangkok is Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom...

     after the march, he is mortally wounded during a mugging. Ironically, he always sought to escape his wife Marie-Claude's kitsch, but dies in her presence, allowing Marie-Claude to claim he always loved her. The inscription on his grave was: "A return after long wanderings."

  • Karenin - The dog of Tomáš and Tereza. Although physically a female, the name given always alludes to masculinity, and is a reference to Anna's husband in Anna Karenina. Karenin displays extreme dislike of change. Once moved to the country, Karenin becomes more content as he is able to enjoy more attention from his owners. He also quickly befriends a pig named Mefisto. During this time Tomáš discovers that Karenin has cancer and even after removing a tumor it is clear that Karenin is going to die. On his deathbed he unites Tereza and Tomáš through his "smile" at their attempts to improve his health. Tereza invents an inscription for his grave: "Here lies Karenin. He gave birth to two rolls and a bee," a reference to a recent dream.

Philosophical underpinnings

Challenging Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

’s concept of eternal recurrence
Eternal return
Eternal return is a concept which posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. The concept initially inherent in Indian philosophy was later found in ancient Egypt, and was subsequently...

 (the idea that the universe and its events have already occurred and will recur ad infinitum
Ad infinitum
Ad infinitum is a Latin phrase meaning "to infinity."In context, it usually means "continue forever, without limit" and thus can be used to describe a non-terminating process, a non-terminating repeating process, or a set of instructions to be repeated "forever," among other uses...

), the story’s thematic meditations posit the alternative; that each person has only one life to live, and that which occurs in life occurs only once and never again — thus the “lightness” of being. In contrast, the concept of eternal recurrence imposes a “heaviness” on our lives and on the decisions we make (to borrow from Nietzsche's metaphor, it gives them "weight".) Nietzsche believed this heaviness could be either a tremendous burden or great benefit depending on the individual's perspective.

The "unbearable lightness" in the title also refers to the lightness of love and sex, which are themes of the novel. Kundera portrays love as fleeting, haphazard and perhaps based on endless strings of coincidences, despite holding such significance for humans.

Publication

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) was not published in the original Czech until 1985, as , by the exile publishing house 68 Publishers
68 Publishers
68 Publishers, also called Sixty-Eight Publishers, Sixtyeight Publishers, or even Nakladatelství 68 , was a publishing house formed in Toronto in 1971 by Czech expatriate Josef Škvorecký and his wife Zdena Salivarová...

 (Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

, Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

). The second Czech edition was published in October 2006, in Brno
Brno
Brno by population and area is the second largest city in the Czech Republic, the largest Moravian city, and the historical capital city of the Margraviate of Moravia. Brno is the administrative centre of the South Moravian Region where it forms a separate district Brno-City District...

 (Czech Republic), some eighteen years after the Velvet Revolution
Velvet Revolution
The Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution was a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia that took place from November 17 – December 29, 1989...

, because Kundera did not approve it earlier. The first English translation by Michael Henry Heim was published in hardback in 1984 by Harper & Row  in the US and Faber and Faber
Faber and Faber
Faber and Faber Limited, often abbreviated to Faber, is an independent publishing house in the UK, notable in particular for publishing a great deal of poetry and for its former editor T. S. Eliot. Faber has a rich tradition of publishing a wide range of fiction, non fiction, drama, film and music...

 in the UK and in paperback
Paperback
Paperback, softback or softcover describe and refer to a book by the nature of its binding. The covers of such books are usually made of paper or paperboard, and are usually held together with glue rather than stitches or staples...

 in 1985.

Film

In 1988
1988 in film
-Top grossing films :- Awards :Academy Awards:* Act of Piracy* Action Jackson, starring Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, Vanity, Sharon Stone* The Adventures of Baron Munchausen* Akira* Alice...

, an American-made film adaptation of the novel was released starring Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis is an English actor with both British and Irish citizenship. His portrayals of Christy Brown in My Left Foot and Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood won Academy and BAFTA Awards for Best Actor, and Screen Actors Guild as well as Golden Globe Awards for the latter...

, Lena Olin
Lena Olin
Lena Maria Jonna Olin is a Swedish actress.-Early life:Olin was born the youngest of three children, in Stockholm, Sweden. She is the daughter of actress Britta Holmberg and the director Stig Olin...

, and Juliette Binoche
Juliette Binoche
Juliette Binoche is a French actress, artist and dancer. She has appeared in more than 40 feature films, been recipient of numerous international accolades, is a published author and has appeared on stage across the world. Coming from an artistic background, she began taking acting lessons during...

. In a note to the Czech edition of the book, Kundera remarks that the movie had very little to do with the spirit either of the novel or the characters in it. In the same note Kundera goes on to say that after this experience he no longer allows any adaptations of his work.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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