Czech Republic: Living Life or Simply Existing?

I thought long and hard about which book I should choose. Should I read a contemporary book, or a historical one? There are many good options out there, but there is one book by a Czech author I have had on my to read list for too many years, so I decided to go for it. I don’t think The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera needs any other introduction than ‘it’s a modern classic’.

Before I even started reading the book I knew I would either really enjoy it, or dislike it. I was right. I did enjoy the book. I would not say it’s one of my all time favourites, but it is indeed a well-written and interesting read. I have to say that the beginning was powerful and intriguing, but the book had several downs in between the parts I full-heartedly enjoyed.

The book has many levels, and it’s about most things in life. The most obvious subjects are the typical ones you can find anywhere: love, loss, infidelity, doubt, human existence. All worth writing about. In many ways it can be seen as a tragic work of fiction, sadly in a way that many people probably look at their lives. Is this really what my life was meant to be like? Is this really it? Isn’t there something more and better out there for me?

The parts called “A Short Dictionary of Misunderstood Words” were definitely enjoyable and gave me some interesting perspectives, and I am always fond of exercising my gray matter. I felt like the writing drifted from time to time, but it always found its way back on track. I could have read a novel purely based on these misunderstood words.

I can fully understand that the book is not to everyone’s liking. Somehow I feel like the sexual content, as well as the unlikeable characters, will put some people off this book. Coldness and alienation are strong themes in the book. Coldness between people, alienation of family members, and these together give the book a creepy feel to it. This describes the times as well, the Cold War, and a general restlessness in the world. Somehow now, looking back at that time, makes political ideologies seem so innocent and full of rebellious hope, in comparison to all the hatred and social divergence of our social media age. I am not saying life was better, or that the world was a safer place back then, because how could I even know what it was like before I was born…

The book made me question things at times, laugh at others, and think so hard that I had to take a break from reading. For me the important parts were not what happened to or between people, but everything else. Kundera is a skillful writer, who has a talent of opening up minds, and leaving the readers a bit uncomfortable. The awkward vibe I got from the cold behaviour of the main characters, and in many ways alienating personalities, did not make me long for more (about them), but I will for sure dive into another one of Kundera’s books in the future.

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