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Archive Book Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being


Archive Book Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

When I finish a book like this, I always feel as if I’ve expanded my mind and my worldview

Book Review Date: April 12th, 2013

Written by: Milan Kundera

Cover Copy

A young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing; one of his mistresses and her humbly faithful lover — these are the two couples whose story is told in this masterful novel. In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and by fortuitous events, a world in which everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence, we feel “the unbearable lightness of being” not only as the consequence of our pristine actions but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being


This book was beautifully written. It had been a while since I read something as literary as this, but it was very enjoyable. There were so many interesting ideas and thoughts and ways to view the world that really just got me thinking about my own world and my own views. That being said, it was, despite the title, strangely heavy. I think that has a lot to do with personality, however. For me, adulterous relationships {whether in books, movies, TV shows, etc} will always be one of those topics that makes me uncomfortable. I’m a naturally light-hearted person, so heavy topics or situations tend to weigh my heart down perhaps faster and longer than most. {Anyone who knows me can vouch for this. I’m so affected by bad news that I always tell people they have to tell me two happy things to make up for telling me one sad thing}. Aside from that, this was a really wonderful book. I love exploring things like the meaning of life and happiness, or the dynamics of relationship through the concepts and ideas books offer. When I finish a book like this, I always feel as if I’ve expanded my mind and my worldview and gained a deeper sense of myself and my views. It feels like I’ve grown. And I like that. Also, I think the title is just fantastic. It’s why I picked up the book in the first place. I love titles, and this one seemed to have a whole world inside it.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

First Line

The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!

Favorite Lines 

  • If eternal return is the heaviest of burdens, then our lives can stand out against it in all their splendid lightness. But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid? The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to 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.
  • We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with out previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.
  • 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?
  • Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love.
  • She now knew there were conditions under which she could feel strong and fulfilled, and she longed to go off into the world and seek those conditions somewhere else.
  • He was depressed, but as he ate, his original desperation waned, lost its strength, and soon all that was left was melancholy.
  • For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.
  • …we believe that the greatness of man stems from the fact that he bears his fate as Atlas bore the heavens on his shoulders.
  • But when we ignore the body, we are more easily victimized by it.
  • But is not an event in fact more significant and noteworthy the greater the number of fortuities necessary to bring it about?
  • If a love is to be unforgettable, fortuities must immediately start fluttering down to it like birds to Francis of Assisi’s shoulders.
  • Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.
  • She had come to him to make her body unique, irreplaceable. But he, too, had drawn an equal sign between her and the rest of them: he kissed them all alike, stroked them all alike, made no, absolutely no distinction between Tereza’s body and the other bodies.
  • Our dreams prove that to imagine — to dream about things that have not happened — is among mankind’s deepest needs.
  • It was day; reason and will power were back in place. … She looked at him with love in her eyes, but she feared the night ahead, feared her dreams. Her life was split. Both day and night were competing for her.
  • She longed to do something that would prevent her from turning back to Tomas. She longed to destroy brutally the past seven years of her life. It was vertigo. A heady, insuperable longing to fall. We might call vertigo the intoxication of the weak. Aware of his weakness, a man decides to give in rather than stand up to it. He is drunk with weakness, wishes to grow even weaker, wishes to fall down in the middle of the main square in front of everybody, wishes to be down, lower than down.
  • The responsibility, she felt, seemed to require more strength than she could muster.
  • He who gives himself up like a prisoner of war must give up his weapons as well. And deprived in advance of defense against a possible blow, he cannot help wondering when the blow will fall. That is why I can say that for Franz, love meant the constant expectation of a blow.
  • That is what made him feel that fidelity deserved pride of place among the virtues: fidelity gave a unity to lives that would otherwise splinter into thousands of split-second impressions.
  • The first betrayal is irreparable. It calls forth a chain reaction of further betrayals, each of which takes us farther and farther away from the point of our original betrayal.
  • Culture is perishing in overproduction, in an avalanche of words, in the madness of quantity.
  • 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 of fail and go down with it, we struggle with it, win or lose.
  • Indeed, the only truly serious questions are ones that even a child can formulate. Only the most naive of questions are truly serious. They are questions with no answers. A question with no answer is a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is questions with no answers that set the limits of human possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence.
  • What weapons did she have at her disposal? None but her fidelity. And she offered him that at the very outset, the very first day, as if aware she had nothing more to give. Their love was an oddly asymmetrical construction: it was supported by the absolute certainty of her fidelity like a gigantic edifice supported by a single column.
  • People usually escape from their troubles into the future; they draw an imaginary line across the path of time, a line beyond which their current troubles will cease to exist. But Tereza saw no such line in her future.
  • …and loves are like empires: when the idea they are founded on crumbles, they, too, fade away.
  • Having thus failed to scale the fence of silence between them, she lost all courage to speak.
  • Is a fool on the throne relieved of all responsibility merely because he is a fool?
  • How defenseless we are in the face of flattery!
  • Insofar as it is possible to divide people into categories, the surest criterion is the deep-seated desires that orient them to one or another lifelong activity.
  • But how could he take something so much a part of him and cast it off so fast, so forcefully, and so lightly?
  • Some seek their own subjective and unchanging dream of a woman in all women. … what they seek in women is themselves, their ideal, and since an ideal is by definition something that can never be found, they are disappointed again and again.
  • But isn’t it true that an author can write only about himself? … The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented.
  • 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.
  • History is as light as individual human life, unbearably light, light as a feather, as dust swirling into the air, as whatever will no longer exist tomorrow.
  • Silence lay between them like an agony.
  • When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.
  • Had he been had once again? Had someone else abused his idiotic goodness?
  • True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.
  • Perhaps all the questions we ask of love, to measure, test, probe, and save it, have the additional effect of cutting it short. Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company.
  • 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.

Last Word

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Reader, Author, Bookstagrammer, and Mom; Alexis runs Nerdy Post, a fandom artwork box as well as serves as chief editor and writer on Drop and Give me Nerdy.

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