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[Book Review] The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

— Created: Xiaoke, 2018/05/30 00:00 CST
— Last modified: Xiaoke, 2018/05/30 00:00 CST

I read the English translation of the novel, so my interpretation may be affected by the meaning of the words in English, especially the word Being. Being is a complex metaphysical concept. The most famous saying about being may come from Descartes, 'Cogito, ergo sum', I think, therefore I am. Being is the status of existence, yet its essence or its meaning has caused tremendous difficulties and is still unresolved. Like the ship of Theseus, each day some cells in our body die and new ones are born, how to define the exact subject who is writing this article at the moment? No man ever steps into the same river twice roughly states the same idea.

Since every existence around us and even ourselves do not have an essence, how about our lives, do our lives have a meaning or an aim or an essence? Someone believe we are born to fulfil some holy and glorious accomplishment, yet some belive life is merely a sequence of coincidences, for example where we are born, who our husbands or wives are, and what fiends we have. Life is thus like a strand of pearls which are randomly picked up, put together and form a necklace.

If something loses its essence and becomes ever light, why is it unbearable? My own interpretation is that, although we understand the truth, but we cannot bear the truth, simply because we have been already brought into existence, and we have to finish this journey. The mission may come from our so called hearty internal call or from some disciplines the environment or the society imposes on us. No matter where it comes from, the idea that we must or we have to complete the mission contrasts the light essence of being and imposes unbearable weight.

I really like the style of this novel, actually it is not like a novel at all. There are pages of monologue or running thoughts of the characters, through which the underlying philosophical concepts are elaborated and justified more and more clearly. Lives of Tomas, Tereza, and Sabina are like the faces of a cube which holds the conflicts of the plot, and also the main concept of the novel, the weight and lightness of being.

I usually fall asleep when I read English at night, this novel is the first one that made me even sober and I'll definitely come back to the original version when I learn French.