One does not read Milan Kundera’s The unbearable lightness of being lightly. One breathes in every word. You taste his sentences in order to decipher which blend of profound truths he has mixed together. Only then, long after completing the novel, are you able to take a deep sip of perspective.
The unbearable lightness of being is, at face value, a story about the uncountable love affairs held by one man, Tomas, despite his immeasurable love for his wife, Tereza. Tereza knows about his love affairs too. At one stage she so much as fantasizes over joining in on his escapades in discovering all the unique features of the female body. However, carefully steering the novel away from hitting the Fifty shades of grey iceberg, Kundera provides a thoughtful investigation into every character’s inner being.
Kundera’s novel plays off during the political unrest of Prague in 1968, and follows the rest of Tomas and Tereza’s life. Although it is an analysis of love and lust, it is also an analysis of what it means to be human during a time of severe inhumanity. The narrator makes various comments prior to the onset of Tomas’ steamy sex life. He says this: “the heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to earth, the more real and truthful they become. […] The absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights […] and become only half real […]. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?” (5).
He investigates more than just this dichotomy between lightness and weight. The novel also confronts us with the inescapable reality that we are humans with only one chance to experience life with. We cannot make a decision based on what we want, says Kundera. We can only ever hypothesize over what we think we want. “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” (7).
This is what kept me hooked on Kundera. In fact, it forced me to complete the novel in two days. Kundera reminds us of our humanity. He doesn’t expect his characters to be angels or demons. He created his characters to be unmistakably human. There is no need for Tomas, Tereza or Sabina (yip, the Freudian mistress), to pretend to be that which they weren’t invented to be. Beautiful mistakes arrange themselves in such a way and by such an innumerable amount, that the end of the novel dares to say it is these mistakes which make the characters the absolute best of humans. They are allowed to squeeze life full of mistakes and still end up where the reader wants them. The incredible lightness of being- to be read at least once. If not for the sex, then for the profound truths about being human.