I think it’s worth explaining the title and theme of this novel, so here is a brief synopsis I have just stolen from Wikipedia:

The book centers on Nietzsche’s idea of eternal return – that is, the idea that the universe and all the events therein have all happened before, and will continue to recur ad infinitum. Kundera challenges this idea, offering an alternative: each of us has only one life to live, and what happens once will never occur again. He calls this idea “lightness”, and refers to the concept of eternal return as “heaviness” or “weight”.

In describing the effect his idea of “lightness” has on a person’s life, Kundera says Einmal ist keinmal (“what happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all”). By this logic life is ultimately insignificant; in an ultimate sense, no single decision matters. Since decisions do not matter, they are light — that is, they don’t cause us suffering. Yet simultaneously, the insignificance of our decisions — our lives, our being — causes us great suffering. Hence the phenomenon Kundera terms the unbearable lightness of being: because life occurs only once and never returns, no one’s actions have any universal significance. This idea is deemed unbearable because as humans we want our lives to mean something, for their importance to extend beyond just our immediate surroundings.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

So there you have it. A pretty nihilistic and depressing outlook, I would argue, but I was still interested to read this book and find out what kind of narrative Milan Kundera would create based on this concept. And what did I find? Well, I have to say that whatever else this narrative may be, I found it pretty darn depressing – but then I guess I can’t complain about that. Atmitedly, it is well written and would provide much material for discussion on a philosophy and literature module. However, this is no book to sit and read on holiday.

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