The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel written by Milan Kundera, published in the year 1984. Since then, the novel has been heaped with praises upon praises by critics and readers, academicians, students and bibliophiles in the world. He is a Czech-French novelist who advocates and asserts his books be placed under the catalogue title of French literature on the bookshelves. It has been recognised as a ‘masterpiece’ and a ‘modern classic’. The story revolves around two men, two women and a dog named Karenin (borrowed from War and Peace, one of my favourite books of all time). It is an odd novel in terms of its name and context and popularity; it has a select audience because it is one of those books which stand out in many top hundred novels ever written lists. The usual readership has not ever heard of Kundera or the fantastic title of this novel, and it appears among the very great classics ever written in literary history.
There is something ambiguous, something fluid about the flow and the texture of this dazzling novel; namely, firstly, the genre and the literary method. It is hard to specify this novel under any category or genre classification because the novel resembles everything and belongs totally to none, it resembles a drama, but it would be immensely pompous to term it as one. It is a philosophical study of human emotions, an analysis of love and sexuality, an essay on life and the metamorphosis of people and the relation between human beings and animals in the larger course of the universe. It is also a self-reflective essay on the role of the author, the writer as you may call it, in the written text; his/her presence and sense of authority and duty. So this novel asserts its dynamism of structure and authority through the multiple literary techniques that Kundera studied while creating originality of identity for itself.
The plot is simple: two men (Franza and Tomas), two women (Sabina and Tereza) and a dog (Karenin); these characters come together to create an unforgettable, undefinable tale of human emotions with the all-pervasive voice, beautiful and sensual, of the narrator or the writer Milan Kundera, who pours his heart out on the paper and magically enlivens the words on the page; they speak, they convey, and they are finally engraved in the deepest corners of your heart. Kundera can create a tale with his word-choices without the prolixity of numerous incidents and happenings as we have seen in tremendous amounts of novels. In simple words, he gives precedence and power to the language to create a story for itself rather than using the much contrived and cliched plot points, becoming all the more trivial commonality in contemporary literature.
The novel is filled with quotations by philosophers such as Nietzsche (eternal recurrence), Descartes (Soul in animals and human beings) and Parmenides (Lightness and heaviness of being). It borrows its stylistic choices form all eras of literature: modernism, postmodernism, historical novel, social drama, philosophical novel and realism yet presents itself as external to these constructs creates a different genre, a different branch and an utterly unique style of writing which cannot be attributed to any particular renaissance of style of literary authorship. It has intertextual references at times advocated and proven through the characters’ dilemmas by the author and at other times rebuked and refused by the worldview of his story. In doing so, in this pursuit of presenting his practical analysis of philosophical and literary constructs in the form of human relationships and ways of the world, the writer has given birth to a uniquely brilliant philosophy of his own; he is as much a philosopher and essayist as a novelist who writes sentences of utmost lyricism and almost divine beauty. The only word that perfectly suits this novel is ‘sublime’; for it achieves sublimity at both physical (landscape, incidents, history, and actions of characters) and metaphysical levels (philosophy, emotions, perceptions and dilemmas).
Sublimity is in itself a dimension of perfection but the word in the spoken form, in the imagination and its perception, evokes a certain melody, a certain composition of precise music in the ears and smooth breeziness and torrential emotions are made visible as if effortlessly; everything acquires a certain degree of magic in the realm of sublimity. This beauty and this melody in refined form is captured eloquently in the novel; one is astonished at the craft and mastery behind the work for it evokes emotions effortlessly and with full knowledge of where it is going, where it is taking the reader which is definitively an undefinable, unknowable place of human emotions; the point at the centre of your forehead or the deep corner of heart where things begin to deviate from the normal, from the usual. The novel occupies the same admiration in my heart as attributed to some of the greatest novels ever written for it asserts and proves the fact that the writer, the novelist or the author, a person of multiple names and multiple faces, has not left anything out but culminated all thought and experience of life into the pages of this book.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is one of the great books of our time and of all time; for it does something unique, it does something which George Eliot did for the Victorian novel or Tolstoy did for the epic realist novel, it deserves to be ranked among the towering figures of literature. When in the end, the harmonies fade away, and the music begins to strain, the reader is confronted by the sheer completeness of this novel. Heart-breaking, sad, funny, philosophical, spiritually sincere and brutally, surgically honest; The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the book of a lifetime: one which makes the dear reader wish to live longer.