Wednesday, September 11, 2013


In a bibliophile's life, there are always books that people would rave about which you would wonder why. And one of those books for me is Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It's a book heavy on philosophical themes, a historic period in the then Czechoslovakia, the impact of repressive political regimes on art, and the significance of sex in its 4 major characters. I found it hard to digest. And believe me, I digested a lot of things in my life, edible or otherwise.

TULoB has been a book I've always wanted to read, and luckily for me, it was chosen as the book of the month by the book club for August. So, up it went to the top of my humongous, robust, virile, eye-popping to-be-read pile. (Now if I can only say that to certain parts of my anatomy, no? Life would be awesome. But alas...) I read it in a span of a week, and what a week it was. I felt I was high on drugs the whole time, but not in a good way. In fact, it was almost akin to having taken a date rape drug. You had no idea you already took it, but you know that all's not well and sooner or later you're gonna get fucked.

The novel opens with a study in contrast of lightness and weight. Lightness apparently has something to do with living for the moment and not putting too much importance on things. Apparently it's based on a philosophical idea of Paremenides. (And it was at this point that my eyes glazed over.) Weight, on the other hand, stems from the idea of Nietzsche, which has something to do with eternal return, which Kundera doesn't really believe in, which has something to do with people putting way too much weight on sex, their political ideologies, their husbands and wives and mistresses, which has something to do with me believing that it's all just crappy nonsense. The last time I've heard of something like the eternal return, I was probably watching an episode of Dr. Who.

The concept of lightness and being does lead us to Kundera's 4 main characters, two of which are "light" and 2 "heavy." The heavy characters are Teresa and Franz, characters so heavy that they'd probably sink into the ocean if I threw them overboard a ship. Teresa, the photographer, who marries one of the light characters, Tomas, the doctor and philanderer who ends up cleaning windows by the novel's end. Teresa is someone that I hoped to understand but I couldn't. All this coming and going from one country to another. All the issues she feels with marrying a man who cheats. Lady, you knew from the start what you're getting into when you married that perennially horny Tomas. He'd fuck a tree if you draped a dress over it. Get over it.

I did like one of the light characters though—Sabina. She's an artist coping with the insane standards of the country's socialist regime. Sabina is one who knows how to survive; she literally packs up all her bags and moves to the US when she can no longer stand the artistic ideals of her country. During that time, all art forms should be realistic and any other forms which are otherwise are deemed unpatriotic. Sabina is the only character in the novel who has an epiphany. When a drop of red paint unintentionally falls on a painting she's working on, she stumbles on the wonderful concept of accidental beauty. Yes, like Sabina, I believe that art should be organic and truly express the artist's feelings.

While I didn't like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I did enjoy the discussion nonetheless. A lot of members consider Kundera's most famous novel as their favorite, and it was interesting to note their opinions and thoughts. I thought, on the other hand, that the novel was just too much work. It's the kind of novel that you deconstruct to fully appreciate and understand. It did make me curious about the Prague Spring and how it affected the lives of artists during the Soviet occupation of this eastern European country. But other than that, I found The Unbearable Lightness of Being, well, simply unbearable in its entirety. Too preachy, the language too flowery, the milieu too European, the characters lacking conflict that I could relate with. It's the kind of book that I'd give to frenemies.

Anyway, here are some pics that R. (best photographer ever) took during the discussion. You can click on them to enlarge.

I have no recollection of what I'm telling here.
Yes, that happens when I talk about books I have no strong feelings on.
Gege, the moderator for this month, gave each member a bowler hat.
The bowler hat figures prominently in the story.
It somehow symbolizes erotic playfulness. Whatever.
And each one of us received this loot.
It had a notebook and a bookmark.
Because one cannot have too many bookmarks.
R. made gorgeous illustrations of the members who attended.
Here's mine.
Yes, I was wearing hot pink shorts that time.
Read this book if:
  1. You're a sucker for Kundera.
  2. You want to know whether you're a light or a heavy person.
  3. You fall for flowery language.


Portobello's coffee said...

"The last time I've heard of something like the eternal return, I was probably watching an episode of Dr. Who."

That's a good thing. right?

artseblis said...

I finally learn what all this lightness and heaviness were from someone who didn't like the book. How funny. I've been deconstructing like mad and I still couldn't get it.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Portobello's coffee! Yes, in a way, it is!

Hello, artseblis! LOL!

Lynai said...

Ah, this book. My eyes still glaze over every time I think about it. At least, you did a good job writing about it and your thoughts on it while I, on the other hand, just came up with rants over how tedious to read this one is.

Glad to know I am not alone on my feelings about Kundera. My question is, will you still read his other books? ;)

Anonymous said...

Portobello's Coffee : woot! Dr. Who! me too! or sa akin, from my pnr books.

Peter, love the shorts! :) Agreeing with everything, didn't regret reading it, while I am jelly of how Kundera writes --his writing style, i did not like his plot, his story, or his characters.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Lynai! Oh, you'd be surprised at our number! No, I'm not too keen on reading any more Kundera. At least in the near future. Or in this lifetime.

Hello, stokedbunny. Yes, Kundera's writing is indeed admirable.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I intended to gatecrash your discussion of this book. Alas, it's over (and I wouldn't know how to update myself regarding the time and venue). I love the book and yet, I don't think I understand it (there is such a thing, yes).

Jack said...

Hey, P-Man! I must confess to never having read this. It smacks too much of The Classics (i.e., literarily-induced coma) for me to wade through, but I just had to say that I love those hats! You guys look like an Irish street gang in New York City circa 1890.

Great review of a book you didn't like, though. That's a real skill. You haven't convinced me to read it, though...

Peter S. said...

Hi, angus25! Join us again soon!

Hello, Jack! Awwww.... Thanks, man!

Jeane said...

I have had this book on my radar for a long time, because a co-worker years ago was reading it and raved about it to me. But I never really knew what it was about, and now that I do, I don't think I'm interested in reading it anymore! Thanks (I think)!

Peter S. said...

Hello, Jeane! Oh, maybe you should read it too. Who knows, perhaps you'll like it. Hehehe. We all have our own reading preferences. I have lots of friends who raved and are still raving about this book.

Louize Gonzales said...

I haven't read any Kundera yet, but I do have this one on my ereader. Philosophical themed books are like magnets to me, don't know why. Take the New York Trilogy for example. But flowery language is another thing. I will remember your thoughts here when I read the book. ♥

James Chester said...

I've never read the book, but I loved the movie. Mid-1980's film version, very romantic, very sexy.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Louize! I actually like philosophical novels, too. But I just couldn't "dig" this one.

Hi, James Chester. Now I have to get a copy of that movie!

Jeane said...

Well, maybe I will still give it a try. You never know.

gege said...

I love this review. Love the energy, the vitriol, the humor. How you feel about TULoB is probably how I feel about Pride & Prejudice--What's wrong with you people?!? Why do you love this book that much?!?

Of course, I hate that I love your review because even after rereading it, I still love the book. Not as much as I did the first time, but I still love it. Yeah, suckered by Kundera.

And it's really strange and interesting how you, who like philosophical stuff, hate this and how I, who have little appreciation and intellectual capacity for philosophical gobbleydook, love it.

Though I know in principle that the moderator should not necessarily be the defender of the book, it still hurts when not everybody loves a book you love. I know you know how this feels when people didn't love The End of the Affair as much as you did. Diba? Anyway, I just console myself with the fact that more people liked/ loved TULoB than those who liked/loved TEoTA. Belat.

Peter S. said...

Thanks, Gege!

LOL at the reference to TEotA! Yeah, bummer.