“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera
(First publication: 1984 / This edition: Faber and Faber 1999)
Taken during my weekend in Pattaya
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, like an actor going on cold.
And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? (pg.8)
The first time I read this book was during my first year of university (so about 5 years ago). I had never heard of “Milan Kundera” or “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” before. I was just browsing around in Kinokuniya—I was on the mood to explore new genres and new authors but I had no direction or an in idea of what I was trying to find.
So I came across this book, picked it up, found a bench, and started reading. I was so engrossed in it that I must’ve read about 50-something pages before getting up to actually purchase the book and hurrying back home to continue devouring it.
I ended up gushing about the book and Milan Kundera to every literary friend/teacher/person I knew probably everyday for a year after my first encounter with him. I was obsessed. I ended up devouring (almost) everything else written by him and he became a religion.
Since then, I’ve been reading this book at least once or twice a year. Less and less as each year passes, but it still remains a top favorite and “most influential” book in my life.
There were two underlying (and intertwining) causes that made this book so “influential” to me. I do believe that sometimes life sends you messages or something that helps you through whatever it is you’re going through—just something to push you through the motions. During my senior year of high school, I lost someone who was very, very close to me. It was my first time dealing that closely with death, so up close, intimate, and crushing—I felt like a half of me was torn away from me. At the same time, I also had to deal with learning how to cope with infidelity and unfaithfulness. These are two extremes for me, and I felt like both were this huge monolithic stone on my shoulder pushing me down.
And then Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” entered my life. Once I read it, I felt like this dark, gloomy curtain was lifted and—for better or worse (I’m still trying to decide), I felt like I was reborn. It changed my perspectives on life in many ways, but mainly about my views on “death” and “faithfulness”.
I don’t know if it made me become a pessimist, in that after reading it, I felt much more calm and more “forgiving”, feeling that infidelity is “not that big a deal” (or I was just exhausted from all the anger and depression).
I don’t know if it made me become an optimist, in that after reading it, I felt like having passed and “recovered” from all the things I’ve gone through, nothing else can affect me (as badly)—so I’m less stressed about things now and feel more “tough” in emotional situations.
Does that make me an optimist?
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it with our lives to come. (pg.7)
Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman). (pg.14-15)
A person who longs to leave the place where he lives is an unhappy person. (pg.26)
Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in an given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third or fourth life in which to compare various decisions. (pg.219)