The Unbearable Lightness of Being

  • by Milan Kundera, Michael Henry Heim (translator)
  • Narrated by Richmond Hoxie
  • 9 hrs and 37 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A young woman is in love with a successful surgeon, a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing. His mistress, a free-spirited artist, lives her life as a series of betrayals - while her other lover, earnest, faithful, and good, stands to lose everything because of his noble qualities. In a world where lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and fortuitous events, and everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence we feel “the unbearable lightness of being.”
A major achievement from one of the world’s truly great writers, Milan Kundera’s magnificent novel of passion and politics, infidelity and ideas, encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, illuminating all aspects of human existence.

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Customer Reviews

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Love, Politics, and Strange Bedfellows

Having read the book in the 80's, and just finished listening to this production, what do I think might be important to someone considering this for the first time? The long and the longer:

*[This is a complex book, but not a difficult book. Don't be intimidated or turned off by "metaphysical philosophies", "psychoanalytical and existential themes", "post modern period " blah blah--unless you are reading this for a philosophy class. (In which case--get the textbook, lots of pencils and paper.) The title simply refers to 2 conflicting main philosophies, and getting these out of the way makes this less imposing. Roughly posited: Nietzche's idea of eternal return - every life/action repeats itself throughout time, therefore our decisions have weight (or heaviness); and Parmenide's philosophy of each person lives one life instead of recurring forever (therefore lightness), with the Kunderian addendum that the insignificance of our decisions causes great suffering and makes our being unbearable.
Get that out of the way and proceed bravely, because you do not need a background in philosophy to understand this book--just patience. Kundera himself has no formal education in philosophy. The philosophies lay the ground work for Kundera to argue his own ideas about love, oppression, existence, and coincidence...which he does--both sides in fact--with dreamy-like lyricism and maxims enjoyable only if you are willing to take the time to ponder what you are reading; this is one of those "savor" books. Again, it is not difficult, but complex--like eating an artichoke compared to a carrot. But if you want difficulty, you can get into Kundera's lifestory, his politics and theories--and dig in very deeply.]

Not completely a political, theological, philosophical, or romantic treatise- -the book is full of interesting ideas and weighty commentaries on each of these subjects. Set during the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the story of four tumultuous relationships serves mostly as a stage for the narrator's (obviously Kundera) personal, and sometimes intrusive, philosophies, moving along without any linear plot, and with characters that remain largely undeveloped. It is hard to compare to anything else I've read, except very vaguely with Gabriel Garcia Marquez in feel.

The narration was good, and I enjoyed hearing the book performed, but I could not have appreciated the book completely without having read the text version before. As to why this book so often receives rave reviews, I offer (and share) Pulitzer Prize winner M. Kakutani's appraisal: "The best books grow with us. Rather than presenting the same experience each time we reread them, they offer us newer, deeper, broader rewards that connect to many different aspects of the life we have been leading while we were away from them." Your appreciation of this book might be relative to where you are in life and your own personal struggles. I see it very differently than I did 20 years ago, but I still gain insight.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being isn't in my top ten, and I don't recommend this to every reader for reasons I hope I've made clear, but with rephrased and often quoted passages like these, you can understand its literary value and appeal:
"When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object."
"Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost."
"What can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?"
"True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power."
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- Mel

A THOUGHTFUL JOURNEY

This is not a typical love story. When the opening paragraph of a story references Friedrich Neitzsche, we may conclude this is not going to be light, easy reading. Kundera is a new author for me. I like to learn something about the background of a new author; I find I can better understand where the writer is trying to take the reader (listener) if I know from whence he comes. (Thank you, Google.)

Milan Kundera was born in the Czech Republic in 1929. He grew up in the Balkan area in the aftermath of WWI, the German Occupation in WWII followed by the Russian Occupation, rebellions and subsequent uprisings. He emigrated to France in 1975. His life has been long and intense and gave opportunities to gain wisdom and a wide overview of life.

The story is built around three major characters and Karenin, a dog: Tomas, a successful surgeon in Prague who is an unabashed womanizer with a wife and son; Tereza, a young student working as a photo-journalist during the turmoil in the Balkans who falls in love with Tomas; and Sabina, a free spirit artist with a faithful lover while she is Tomas’ mistress. Around these characters, Kumdera weaves his philosophical questions of irrevocable, never to return periods of life and eternally returning cycles to be repeated over and over again.

His writing is lucid and compelling. There is love in many forms, from erotic sex to the love of a beloved dog. And, there are points to ponder as we examine our own experiences. His novel is worth the thoughtful hours required to follow him.
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- Betty "Elderly (1932), retired university professor, degrees in engineering and economics."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-15-2012
  • Publisher: HarperAudio