Saturday, April 16, 2011

BOOK REVIEW on The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera ; sexuality, individual, inner being

"The lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all."  Herein lies the premise of this book. 

The unbearable lightness of being is based on the thought that each person has only one life to live.  "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 of life is life itself?"  The insignificance of our being and our decisions renders an unbearable existence when we consider that we want our lives to contain meaning.  In contrast, "in the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make."  That is why Nietzsche called the idea of eternal return the heaviest of burdens.... "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 be weighted 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. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes men to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant...." And so the book takes us on a journey of Kundera vs. Nietzsche in the midst of love and sex, lightness of being and burden of living, and everything in between.

The characters are the epicenter of the book.  They are almost concrete groupings of types of people based on, as Kundera later describes, themselves in relation to others.  "We all need someone to look at us.  We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under... look of the public....people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes... category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love... the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present."  Sabina is in the first category being that she is a painter and wishes for others to admire her artistic skill; Marie-Claude and her daughter being in the second category who always found someone or other as the eyes they needed; Tereza and Thomas belonging in the third since they both longed for each other's love; and Franz and his son Simon belonging to the fourth since Franz always longed for Sabina who kept their love affair a secret and could never be in his life, and Simon always longed for Franz who wasn't in his life.  As the book unfolds, though, it becomes very clear that these characters are probably small pieces of all of us.  We might find ourselves relating and feeling to one character more than others nevertheless we find out we can relate in one way or another to each character.  The profound aspect of the characters not only lies in themselves individually but also in their interdependency  to one another, and probably the cause for the duality of lightness/weight in every aspect of their lives.

There are several pivotal topics that carry throughout the book.  The first is the most ubiquitous of all, the dichotomy between love and sex.  "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)."  This is Thomas's dogma.  He differentiates between his love for Thereza and his sexual desire for Sabina.  If this doesn't add to the heaviness and burden of their existence, I don't know what does.  Some of the characters even deny it even if they are obviously experiencing it.

Another interesting theme carried through the book was compassion.  It is compassion, as thought by the author, that also contributes to our heaviness of the soul because we tend to others rather than our pain even when others don't tend to us. "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 echos."  Compassion is subtle in the book, but we can see it in Tomas for Tereza even if not in the others as obviously, as is the case when Thomas realizes how much compassion he has for Tereza even though she has left him and he's aching in pain.

Another profound topic is vertigo.  "Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must accept some day to suffer vertigo.  What is vertigo?  Fear of falling?  Then why do we feel it even when the observation tower comes equipped with a sturdy handrail?  No, vertigo is something other than the fear of falling.  It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which terrified, we defend ourselves."  All the characters, at some point or another, have the feeling or vertigo, and it is perhaps this element so intertwined in all the characters that touches the reader to relate to them on a deeper level. The question remains up for grabs, is vertigo the lightness or heaviness of their existence?

One last theme I want to touch upon is the struggle of all the characters with their inner 'I'.  "What is unique about 'I' hides itself exactly in what is unimaginable about a person.  All we are able to imagine is what makes everyone like everyone else, what people have in common.  The individual 'I' is what differs from the common stock, that is, what cannot be guessed at or calculated, what must be unveiled, uncovered, conquered."  We see this most obviously with Tereza as she struggles to see her inner 'I' which is clouded much by her insecurity with her appearance and physical body as well as her insecurities in the relationship with her mother.  This topic doesn't quite unravel as clearly as the others in terms of lightness of being, but Thereza is definitely burdened by her ambiguity on it.

The text of this book is perhaps unappealing and even repulsive since it deals with infidelity, betrayal, divorce of relationships, and broken bonds of family.  On the other hand, the subtext of all the plots make you feel right at home.  The underlying human qualities of the book leave the reader feeling he or she isn't the exception to life, but more so the 'common'.  There are universal laws that link us all beneath everything... whether it's through the dichotomy of love and sex, through the lightness of being and burden of heavy responsibilities of our soul, or whether it is through our relationships with the people we encounter in our lives.  These universal links are far from black and white, and far from being completely understood.  This is probably why the lightness/weight opposition is so mysterious and so ambiguous.  If you are looking for a book that looks beyond the surface, or looks beyond the day-to-day existence and analyzes life's intricacies, or touch on the subject of the soul and its struggles in life.... this is the book for you....  This is probably a good book for you if you're looking for just the opposite, a lot of dramas, a lot of complications, a lot of confusion, and just an exciting plot....

Bookserk by Author

Milan Kundera (4) Jane Austen (3) Stephenie Meyer (3) Suzanne Collins (3) Bernhard Schlink (2) F. Scott Fitzgerald (2) H.G. Wells (2) Herman Hesse (2) JRR Tolkien (2) Jules Verne (2) Khaled Hosseini (2) Paulo Coelho (2) Sam Kean (2) Stieg Larsson (2) Sylvia Day (2) A.G. Howard (1) Adam Johnson (1) Alafair Burke (1) Albert Einstein (1) Alexander Soderberg (1) Alicia Hendley (1) Amanda Hocking (1) Andre Dubus III (1) Ann Patchett (1) Aravind Adiga (1) Azar Nafisi (1) Barbara Kingsolver (1) Becky Aikman (1) Camilla Lackberg (1) Carl Sagan (1) Cat Hellisen (1) Charles Webb (1) Charlotte Bronte (1) Chinua Achebe (1) Chris Prentiss (1) Chrisanna Northrup (1) Christopher S. Stewart (1) Clare Clark (1) Clive Barker (1) Coltaire Rapaille (1) Dai Sijie (1) Daniel J. Levitin (1) Daniel Kahneman (1) Daniel Pink (1) David Foster Wallace (1) David Levithan (1) David Sedaris (1) Debra Driza (1) Domenica Ruta (1) Don Miguel Ruiz (1) Douglas Adams (1) Elie Weisel (1) Emily Bronte (1) Emlyn Chand (1) Enid Shomer (1) Epictetus (1) George Orwell (1) George R.R. Martin (1) Greg Graffin (1) Gretchen Rubin (1) Harper Lee (1) Haruki Murakami (1) Herman Koch (1) JR Moehringer (1) Jane Eyre (1) Jennifer Egan (1) Jodi Meadows (1) John Eldredge (1) John Englander (1) John Kenney (1) John Steinbeck (1) John T Cacioppo (1) Joyce Carol Oates (1) Judy Blume (1) Julia Glass (1) Karen Thompson Walker (1) Karol Jackowski (1) Kate Chopin (1) Kate Walbert (1) Katherine Boo (1) Lauren DeStefano (1) Lisa See (1) Lois Lowry (1) Lou Marinoff PhD (1) Madhulika Sikka (1) Maggie Stiefvater (1) Margot Livesey (1) Marissa Meyer (1) Martha Stout (1) Mary Roach (1) Mary Shelley (1) Meg Howrey (1) Megan Abbott (1) Natalie Babbitt (1) Nujood Ali (1) Oliver Harris (1) Paulo Giordano (1) Poet Charles Swain (1) Poet Margaret E. Sangster (1) Priscille Sibley (1) Ray Bradbury (1) Rebecca Dean (1) Richard Francis (1) Robert Louis Stevenson (1) Robert M. Pirsig (1) Rudyard Kipling (1) Sarah Gruen (1) Sharon Lebell (1) Shirley MacLaine (1) Stasi Eldredge (1) Stephen Chbosky (1) Sue Kidd Monk (1) Susan Cain (1) Susanna Calahan (1) Tara Conklin (1) Tea Obreht (1) Terri Giuliano Long (1) Thrity Umrigar (1) Victoria Hislop (1) Virginia Morell (1) Voltaire (1) Zora Neale Hurston (1)

Bookserk Globally

Bookserk by Publishing House

Harper Perennial Publishing (8) Random House Publishing (7) Crown Publishing (6) Little Brown and Company Publishing (6) Harper Publishing (4) Knopf Publishing (4) Scholastic Press Publishing (4) Vintage Publishing (4) W.W. Norton Company Publishing (4) Anchor Publishing (3) Atria Books Publishing (3) Free Press Publishing (3) HarperCollins Publishing (3) Penguin Books Publishing (3) Riverhead Books Publishing (3) Ballantine Books Publishing (2) Bantam Books Publishing (2) BarnesNoble Classics Publishing (2) Broadway Publishing (2) Harmony Publishing (2) Harper Paperback Publishing (2) Hyperion Publishing (2) Katherine Tegen Books Publishing (2) Simon and Schuster Publishing (2) William Morrow Publishing (2) Algonquin Books Publishing (1) Amber Allen Publishing (1) Amulet Books Publishing (1) Berkley Trade Publishing (1) Blue Crown Press Publishing (1) Createspace Publishing (1) Crown Business Publishing (1) Del Rey Publishing (1) Dover Publishing (1) Ember Publishing (1) Faber and Faber Publishing (1) Farrar Straus Giroux Publications (1) Feiwel Friends Publishing (1) Five Rivers Chapmanry Publishing (1) Gallery Books Publishing (1) Grand Central Publishing (1) HarperOne (1) Hill and Wang Publishing (1) Hogarth Publishing (1) It Books Publication (1) MJF Books Publishing (1) MTV books and Pocket Books Publishing (1) McGraw Hill Higher Education Publishing (1) Nelson Publishing (1) Pamela Dorman Books Publishing (1) Pantheon Publishing (1) Plaza Y Janes Publishing (1) Plume Publishing (1) Pocket Publishing (1) Puffin Publishing (1) Quill Publishing (1) Reagan Arthur Books Publishing (1) Science Bookshelf Publishing (1) Signet Classics Publishing (1) St. Martin's Press Publishing (1) Touchstone Publishing (1) Virago Publishing (1) Washington Square Press Publishing (1)