Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Unbearable, indeed.

I can handle books that are "depressing." In fact, most (if not all) literature is at its essence rooted in tears and pain of some sort, anyway. But this novel beats 'em all.

That's not to suggest, however, that I necessarily disliked the book, or that I wouldn't recommend it. There are passages in Kundera that are beautifully rendered, and much of the philosophical flourishing will give the reader occasion to pause and consider how the notions apply to his/her own life. One of my favorites is early in the novel and, as it turns out, becomes the basis for the novel's themes:

"We can never know what we want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come [...] There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, "sketch" is not quite the word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture [...] If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all."

Some of the book, however, left me feeling unfulfilled, and I sort of wonder if it had to do with the translation (Kundera is a Czech). Nevertheless, a colleague of mine *swears* by Kundera (and highly recommends his novel Immortality), while another friend said the film The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an excellent complement to the novel (i.e., each taken on its own is okay but, together, they inform each other . . . kinda like Pink Floyd's The Wall).

Either way, I've now read Milan Kundera. So much for that.