With a summer term of schooling underway and a keen sense that Metadata: 2nd Edition is not the most enthralling book, I needed a summer read that would provide an escape from academic toil. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera has been on my radar for some time now – more than one patron has recommended it while we chatted about our respective tastes – and after years of putting it off, I finally got around it.
The book touches on many philosophical themes – an evaluation of Nietzsche and Parmenides kicks off the novel, and questions of morality and duty are discussed throughout. Kundera even breaks the fourth wall at times, acknowledging that his characters are literary constructs and openly wonders about the purpose of novels and why authors are compelled to write them. All of this is fun and enlightening for me. Kundera’s extra-story explorations never deviate from the story, but compliment and inform the setting, characters and a reader’s understanding(s) of the whole story.
Still grappling with the effects of World Wars I and II, and set in the midst of the Cold War, a reader gains an acute sense of being caught between forces that are imminently larger and more powerful than any individual can imagine or influence. Set throughout Europe during the late-1960s and early-1970’s, the primary focus of The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the Prague Spring of 1968 in Czechoslovakia. The internal life of characters and their relationships are strained and morphed by the Soviet invasion and the surveillance state installed in its wake. Kundera deftly forges empathy for his characters’ trails and decisions.