In the 1980s, everybody was reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I can’t remember precisely when I read my first Kundera or which it was, because once I had started I couldn’t stop until I emptied them all. I was drawn into a restless world of ideas and characters in which nothing is how we first perceive it, and meaning and motive are bent like light refracting through a prism. It was some heavy duty intellectual stuff, original and subversive.
Lightness and heaviness
Published in Kundera’s exile in 1984, The Unbearable Lightness of Being explores the idea of “lightness” and heaviness – emptiness and meaning. Should we take life seriously or not? Should we think of it as heavy or light?
“If the eternal return is the heaviest of burdens, then our lives can stand out against it in all their splendid lightness.”
Returning after 40 years, what is remarkable is that a work so firmly rooted in its time has not dated. The world, and particularly that part of the world we used to call, eastern Europe, has changed profoundly since 1984, but Kundera’s novel seems as relevant now as it did when it was first published. Relevance, however, is nothing compared with that sense of felt life which the truly great Kundera communicate.
Do you believe?
This is a shamelessly clever book (absolutely clever!) at times a little cold – but exhilaratingly subversive and funny. Kundera takes you through a unique journey with some pretty tough questions: “Is that what you really believe?”; “Is that what you are like?”; “Have you found what you’re looking for?”; ” What is your true purpose? if you believe in purpose!” In the end, wisdom is, in large part, differentiating what matters from what doesn’t – and differentiates what is a meaningful life!
What can you ask more of a novel? Have you read it?
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