The Unberarable lightness of being

Another book that made me think and reflect on fate, destiny, love and happiness has been The Unberarable lightness of being by Milan Kundera.  It seems that these topics are quite recursive in the books I pick, but this time, I didn´t choose it. It was the assigned book for June of the Literati Book Club.

The Unberarable lightness of being is not a light read, but quite a heavy and philosophical one. I read it for the first time when I was a teenager, and that was the only thing that I remembered , that it was a hard read. Now I see that I didn´t understand much at that time, and today the reading has left me lots of questions and reflections.

The Unberable  lightness of being tells the story  of  Tomas, his wife, Tereza, Sabina, Tomas´lover and Franz, Sabina´s lover. The story starts when Teresa arrives in Prague, visits Tomas and stays with him for good. Tomas´ personal story is intertwined with historical events occurring in Checkoeslovaquia from 1968 till 1980s.

“Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman).” 

One of the topics depicted in this book is romantic love. Tomas is a womanizer and for him, sex and love are two absolutely different things. Kundera shows us love as ephemeral, risky and as a result of endless strings of coincidences. This concept of love somewhat shocked me, and challenged my own view. I agree with Kundera in the sense that love goes beyond the desire of copulation and has more to do with the desire of sharing and undertsanding with each other.

Though love, sex, freedom, and a criticism of communism are prominent themes  in the book. The most important theme is  “lightness” . Kundera states “what happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all.” According to Kundera, life is insignificant, and decisions are not important. The problem with this is that this lightness gets unbearable and makes us suffer because we want our lives to trascend. We want to relive our past lives and make things better, but this is not possible and things get heavier and the awareness of our imperfect beings makes it unbearable.

“People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.”  

Kundera´s lightness is unbearable for me. Being light relieves us from guilt and consequences; however, that lightness makes me feel so useless and insignificant that I cannot accept that our decisions don´t matter. Life  cannot just be a string of coincidences, but the recurrent outcome of our own doing intertwined by our surrounding others.

I really enjoyed reading The Unbearable lightness of being and all the philosophical discussions presented here. The characters are complex  human beings who live, question their lives, and search for meaning and companionship. This novel talked to me about how vulnerable and contradictory we are, how light our beings are, and how unbearable this is.

“We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.” 

“Happiness is the longing for repetition”

“Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion”

“Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost”


About Malba Barahona

Educational researcher, language educator. PhD from Australian National University. Passionate bushwalker and mountain lover. I procrastinate reading fiction, hiking, doing yoga, riding, having a beer and more recently decolonizing my existence. I write in English and Spanish in different blogs especially with the purpose of encouraging my students to write.
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