The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

I didn’t read this novel by Milan Kundera until I was nearly 30, but it definitely left an impact.

It’s going to sound weird, but even though I knew I had read books in translation before, The Unbearable Lightness of Being marked the first time I read a translation that also made me aware of exactly how different my life, my world was from the one the author depicted.  And yet, of all the novels I’ve read, this one is probably one of the handful that has helped me understand myself better.

The novel is full of seeming contradictions.  A philandering doctor who loves only his wife, an intellectual photographer who turns dissident photojournalist.  Sex verses love, existential lightness verses existential weight, dissent verses conformity, innocence verses experience.  Body image issues, self-acceptance, the nature of freedom, reconciliation, and even the nature of art emerge throughout the narrative.  All of it is set in the time right around the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

It isn’t necessarily an easy read, but I wouldn’t call it heavy.  There is a kind of playfulness in the narrative, and in the language that belies the serious themes it introduces.  It encourages a kind of lightness (no pun intended) in grappling with life, humanity, and everything that goes along with it.