Unbearable Lightness of Being

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Translated by Michael Henry Heim. Harper Row, 1984.

Reason read: I honestly don’t remember why.

My favorite scene was when Tereza and Sabine spend time together. An odd friendship blossomed between wife and lover as they photograph each other in the nude.

I love it when books intersect one another. I am finishing up Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and learn that the dog in The Unbearable Lightness of Being is named after Karenin. The Unbearable Lightness of Being reminded me of another book as well, Orchard. I found myself asking the same question about morality. What form of “cheating” is worse, emotional infidelity or physical betrayal in the form of fornication? Is there something to be said for complete and utter loyalty? Either way, I didn’t like any of the characters so that made The Unbearable Lightness of Being all the more difficult to enjoy.

Quote that spoke to me, “and he knows that time and again he will abandon the house of his happiness.”

Author fact: People sell tee shirts with Milan Kundera quotes on them. I wonder what he would think of that.

Book trivia: The Unbearable Lightness of Being was published in the New Yorker as a serial.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Unbearable Lightness of Being Kundera’s best known novel. She also called it a “stellar example of literary erotica” (Book Lust p 218).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two chapters. The Unbearable Lightness of Being shows up in the chapter called “Czech It Out” (p 70) and in “Sex and the Single Reader” (p 218). She is not wrong.


The Joke

Kundera, Milan. The Joke. Translated by Michael Henry Heim. New York: Harper & Row, 1982.

It is important to understand first how The Joke is organized because to just read it without paying attention is like landing in a foreign country and driving without a map. The book is in seven parts, each part being the point of view of a different character until the 7th part. It reads like a musical quartet with Ludvik, Helena, Jaroslav and Kostka all give their perception of “the joke.” The story starts with Ludvik returning to his hometown after 15 years and knowing no one. He reminiscences about a joke gone horribly wrong. But when the reader gets to part II the point of view has changed without announcement. Only by paying attention to the table of contents do we know we are now getting someone else’s perception of the joke. The second thing to remember is the time and place of The Joke. Communist Czech. A person can be kicked out of the party and out of school for saying the wrong thing. While there are many jokes throughout the story it is important to note the original joke stems from a postcard Ludvik has written a classmate implying he is a Trotskyite.

Favorite quotes, “During a lifetime of switching beds I’d developed a personal cult of keys, and I slipped Kostka’s into my pocket with silent glee” (p 5). Odd.
“The young can’t help acting: they’re thrust immature into a mature world and must act mature” (p 76), and “Fantasies are what make home of houses” (p 124). True.

Reason read: September is a good time to visit Czechoslovakia.

Author fact: The Joke was Kundera’s first novel.

Book Trivia: My copy was translated by Michael Henry Heim.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Czech It Out” (p 71).