The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Unbearable Lightness of Being.jpg
First edition (French)
AuthorMilan Kundera
Original titleNesnesitelná lehkost bytí
CountryFrance
LanguageCzech
GenrePhilosophical fiction
PublisherGallimard (France)
68 Publishers (Czech language)
Harper & Row (US)
Faber & Faber (UK)
Publication date
1984 (French translation)
1985 (original Czech)
Published in English
1984
Media typeHardback
Pages393 (French 1st edition)
 
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This article is about the novel. For the 1988 film, see The Unbearable Lightness of Being (film).
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Unbearable Lightness of Being.jpg
First edition (French)
AuthorMilan Kundera
Original titleNesnesitelná lehkost bytí
CountryFrance
LanguageCzech
GenrePhilosophical fiction
PublisherGallimard (France)
68 Publishers (Czech language)
Harper & Row (US)
Faber & Faber (UK)
Publication date
1984 (French translation)
1985 (original Czech)
Published in English
1984
Media typeHardback
Pages393 (French 1st edition)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Czech: Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí) is a 1984 postmodern novel by Milan Kundera, about two women, two men, a dog and their lives in the Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history in 1968. Although written in 1982, the novel was not published until two years later, in a French translation (as L'Insoutenable légèreté de l'être). The original Czech text was published the following year.

Premise[edit]

The Unbearable Lightness of Being takes place mainly in Prague 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’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; Franz, a Swiss university professor and lover of Sabina; and finally Šimon, Tomáš’s estranged son from an earlier marriage.

Characters[edit]

Philosophical underpinnings[edit]

Challenging Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence (the idea that the universe and its events have already occurred and will recur ad infinitum), 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 much significance for humans.

In the novel, Nietzsche's concept is attached to an interpretation of the German adage Einmal ist keinmal ('one occurrence is not significant'), namely an "all-or-nothing" cognitive distortion that Tomáš must overcome in his hero's journey. He initially believes "If we only have one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all," and specifically (with respect to committing to Tereza) "There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison." The novel resolves this question decisively that such a commitment is in fact possible and desirable.

Publication[edit]

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) was not published in the original Czech until 1985 by the exile publishing house 68 Publishers (Toronto, Canada). The second Czech edition was published in October 2006, in Brno, Czech Republic, some eighteen years after the Velvet Revolution, 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 in the UK and in paperback in 1985.[1]

Film[edit]

In 1988, an American-made film adaptation of the novel was released starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche. 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.[2] In the same note Kundera goes on to say that after this experience he no longer allows any adaptations of his work.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kundera, Milan (1999). The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York City: Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-093213-9. 
  2. ^ "Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí", "Poznámka Autora", p. 341, dated 2006 France, published by Atlantis.

External links[edit]