A Book Review On The Unbearable Lightness

Of Being Essay, Research Paper

A Book








A Novel

Milan Kundera


This International Bestseller is about a young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing; one of his mistresses and her humble faithful lover ? these are the two couples whose story is told in this masterful novel. In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and by fortuitous events, a world in which everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence, we feel ?the unbearable lightness of being? not only as the consequence of our private actions, but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine.

This novel revolves around the idea of eternal return as ?a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them: without mitigating circumstance of their transitory nature.? Nietzsche says that a life that is only lived once means nothing.

Nietzsche called the idea of eternal return the heaviest of burdens.

But is lightness splendid and heaviness deplorable? The heaviest of burdens sinks us, crushes us, and pins us to the ground. But in ?the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man?s body.? A woman would rather be burdened by the pains a man brings her than to live without any burden at all due to the absence of love.

The heaviest of burdens is 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. Having completely no burden would be considered an illusion if ever it is at all possible.

The absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, take leave of the earth, and become only half real, his movements are free as they are insignificant. What is the use of a life without any burdens and trials to learn from? It is through these burdens that we shall find out purpose in life.


Life is a sketch. We do not have basis from which to compare situations because we only live once.



A doctor, a divorcee, and a womanizer, Tomas feared and desired women that he kept erotic friendships to exclude love from his life. He abided by the ?rule of threes?: seeing a woman in three consecutive times, or maintaining relationships over the years but making sure that rendezvous are three weeks apart.? If Tomas violates this, his mistresses would assume inferior status and demand more from him.

Tomas is an insomniac who could not sleep beside another person. After making love with one of his mistresses, he would bring her back home (if they were at Tomas? flat) or he would go back home (if they were in the mistress? home).


A waitress in a hotel restaurant in a small Czech town. Tereza came to Prague to escape her mother?s world. Her mother was beautiful and a lot of men courted her. Consequently, she was impregnated by the most ?manly? of her suitors.

She eventually regretted this because the man turned out to by a lazy sloth. She blamed Tereza for this.

Tereza always thought that her body was special and that that is not the same for anybody else?s body. Hence, there is no duality of soul and body (soul and body can never be separated). However, her mother thought otherwise. Her mother thought that each and every ?body? is the same.


Tomas? favorite lover, Sabina is a painter from Geneva. With her, Tomas could fulfill his fantasies. Together, they enjoyed erotic rendezvous each of which had been an opportunity to think up some new little vice and some new little game they would play.

*Sabina was only mentioned in three chapters. This signifies that her life was ?very light? and is not worth mentioning; did not make any impression on anybody?s life.


The story is set in a Prague. The main character, Tomas, lives in a flat across a courtyard at the opposite walls. The setting shifts from Prague to a small Czech provincial town where Tomas and Tereza, his love interest, met. A part of this beautiful


Tomas had met Tereza in a hotel restaurant where she worked located in a small Czech town. They had spent scarcely an hour together. Ten days later, Tereza paid Tomas a visit in Prague. When Tereza left for Prague, she phoned Tomas to pick her up. She brought her heavy luggage into Tomas? flat (indicating that Tereza would be a burden to him). Tomas checked her into a small hotel where she stayed during her visit. Eventually, they made love in Tomas? flat and surprisingly, Tomas slept with Tereza beside her which he usually can?t do with her other lovers. He felt love for Tereza and so they got married. It was w whirlwind romance between them but Tomas realized that he couldn?t live without her and that he wanted to die beside her.

Despite of this, Tomas continued his erotic friendships. He then concluded that love does not make itself felt in the desire of copulation (a desire that extends to numerous women) but in the desire of shared sleep (a desire that is limited only to one woman).

Tereza knew all along that Tomas was being unfaithful but this did not stop her from loving Tomas. His unfaithfulness lead Tereza to believe that her body was no different compared to those of Tomas? mistresses (this was manifested in Tereza?s dreams). Tomas, even though he desired women, felt that he could not make love with infidelities. To Tomas, being intoxicated was being faithful to Tereza.

One of Tomas? lovers was Sabina, a painter from Geneva. Sabina and Tomas understood each other. Although Sabina knew that all she could ever be to Tomas was a mistress, they shared a special relationship. They could go on erotic rendezvous filled with games and adventures and yet they could make sweet love without saying a word and feel as if they are the last two people on earth. But with her, Tomas felt this certain emptiness within him unlike how he felt with Tereza. With Sabina, everything was there for the taking; nothing about her was a burden. This made her very light. His life with her had no meaning and burden at all. Without that certain feeling of burden, Tomas felt he really didn?t love Sabina.

Sabina and Franz were lovers who did not understand each other. When they would sit down and talk about their own lives and share it with each other, he would listen eagerly to the story of her life and she would be equally eager to hear the story of his, but although they had a clear understanding of the logical meaning of the words they exchanged, they failed to hear the ?semantic susurrus? of the river flowing through them. They say that it is possible for one to hear what you are saying without really listening to a word you?re saying.

When Tomas and Tereza moved to Zurich, Sabina decided to visit Tomas since she was just in Geneva where she had emigrated. Tomas couldn?t resist visiting Sabina in her hotel room so he did. When they saw each other, they made love like they have never made love before. But right after, Tomas left and went back to his wife.

Despite of all of Tomas? infidelities, Tereza did everything she could to win Tomas and have him all to herself. Her unending patience made Tomas realize hw important Tereza is to him and so Tomas learned his lesson well and realized that the burden of having Tereza was indeed the one element that has been missing his life: love.


Man VS Man: Fidelity gave unity to lives that would otherwise splinter into thousands of split-second impressions. Betrayal means breaking ranks and going off into the unknown. Through this notion of fidelity and betrayal a conflict arises between Franz and Sabina. Franz wanted fidelity. Sabina loved Betrayal (her life was a succession of betrayals).

Franz loves music and considers it intoxicating while for Sabina music is noise.

Lightness and Darkness: For Sabina, living meant seeing. Seeing is limited by strong light and total darkness. She hated both (both extremities). For Franz, lights means source of light itself like the light that comes from a light bulb or the sun. He loved lightness and darkness. To him, darkness was pure, perfect. Franz would always close his eyes whenever he penetrated Sabina. This (to Franz) would indicate that he was taking pleasure in it. To Sabina, she felt a disagreement with what she saw; for her, Franz refused to see and appreciate her.

Living in truth: For Sabina, living in truth was possible but only way from the public (once someone keeps an eye on you, nothing you do would seem truthful). Being around the public eye, for her meant living in lies. For Franz, living in truth meant breaking down barriers between a public and private life where there are no secrets.

Man VS Man: Another conflict arises between Tomas and Tereza because of Tomas? infidelities. All throughout the story, Tereza struggles to win Tomas? heart completely without having to share it with anyone else.

Man VS Himself: In this story, Tomas struggles to overcome his fear and desire of women, which results this continuous infidelities.

Man VS. Society: Here, conflict arises between Sabina and her protest against the scrutiny of the society around he. She would rather live her life as privately as possible without being watched and judged by society. To her, a life out for the public to see is a life full of lies. She feels that nothing she does would seem truthful if she laid her life out for the public to see.


The way the contrasting points of lightness and weight were shown in this bestseller is very intriguing. All throughout the story, weight is preferred over lightness. Tomas, although he knew that Tereza was going to be a burden, still chose to take her in. Sabina, whose life was considered light, was only mentioned in a few chapters, which gives the reader the impression that her life didn?t really make such a big effect on anybody?s life.

I?ve always felt that a burden in life must be worked to one?s advantage and strength and not to one?s disadvantage and weakness. It is through these burdens that we learn to walk and become stronger. Without these, burdens, how else can we decide our faith and what path to choose? I would rather live a life that offers obstacles and burdens than live one that has no obstacle at all so I could find what my purpose in life is, Otherwise, for what purpose would my life serve?

For me, the heaviest of burdens is not knowing what one?s purpose in life is. This burden alone will teach us to search fro that purpose. Through this search, we shall discover new things and new lessons and eventually find that ?purpose.? In this search, things will not be easy for us. We will encounter other burdens wherein we shall encounter and fight our own demons in search of light and meaning.



Milan Kundera

The Franco-Czech novelist was born in Brno and has lived in France, his second homeland, for more than twenty years. He is the author of the novels the Joke, Life is Elsewhere, Farewell Waltz, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and, Immortality, and the short story collection, Laughable Loves ? all originally in Czech. His most recent novel Slowness and Identity, as well as his nonfiction works, The Art of the Novel and Testaments Betrayed, were originally written in French.



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