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Monday, February 27, 2017

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)by Milan Kundera

Book Review
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)
by Milan Kundera

   A minor theme of this blog in recent years is the strain of philosophical-existentialism which manifested itself in many notable examples of "European" literature in the 1970's and 1980's.  This aesthetic trend had a particular home in Soviet and post-Soviet Eastern Europe, with the two most notable elaborations occurring in Poland (cinema) and then Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic (cinema and literature.)  The literature from this period generally eschewed the trend towards "magic realism" that was happening in the rest of the literary world for a style that was closer to the philosophical-existentialist French novel of the 1950's.

  I would argue that Milan Kundera's contribution was the incorporation of explicit sex into the dour lives of his Central European intellectuals.  The Unbearable Lightness of Being is built around one of the central social programs of 20th century Communism:  Taking loyal community members and stripping them of their positions and status because of some imagined ideological purity.  Here, the victim is Tomas, a surgeon, who is called to account for a letter to the editor/editorial he has written some years earlier.  Tomas has both a wife and a lover.  Also his lover has a lover.  It is all very French, except for the fact that it is Czech.  The Unbearable Lightness of Being was actually published in French before it was published in Czech, and Kundera has argued that his work should be considered French literature.



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