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'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' by Milan Kundera

'The Unbearable Lightness of Being'
Harper Collins Publishers

Author Milan Kundera's politically relevant and imaginative book 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' is a philosophical work of art in metaphoric storytelling about love and the meaning of life in the face of an uncertain future, where danger and betrayal lurk at every moment. The novel is a beautiful yet sad portrayal of two star-crossed lovers whose lives intersect as if by fate in a conflicted world of civil unrest during the Russian invasion of Prague in the late 1960's.

Tomas is a brilliant and well respected brain surgeon, highly specialized in his field. He also happens to be a womanizer with an active love life and is passionately attracted to Sabina, an artist and free-spirited intellectual whose abstract paintings reflect the strange duality in society at this historic time period. In contrast, Tereza is a very pretty young waitress of humble beginnings who unexpectedly finds herself at Tomas' doorstep soon after taking his order for a drink in a friendly exchange of mutual attraction. Interestingly, her sudden presence in Tomas' life necessitates his physical disentanglement from Sabina, an event of unprecedented repercussions.

And though Tereza proves to be a gifted photographer who rivals Sabina's artistic talent in the sequence of events to follow, a paradox surfaces in her unlikely coupling with Tomas as his high-minded persona imparts a liberated frame of mind and lightness of being, in stark opposition to the essence of Tereza's innocent stature which manifests itself as an overwhelming invisible weight; an elemental truth that must somehow reveal itself as an inevitable resolve to their inexplicable union.

This important personality difference between the two is significant in the context of the story in that Tereza's character eventually occurs as almost saintly, even as a bit of a sacrificial lamb compared to Tomas, particularly when considering the writer's juxtaposition of her image as a personification of the couple's cherished dog Karenin in the last part of the novel.

Told in first-person that intermittently fluctuates to third between past and present moments, Kundera's prolific technique allows the reader to form his or her own subjective ideas and impressions about the human condition, as might be conceptualized through the lens of darkness and light, body and soul, dream and reality, weight and weightlessness.

Far-reaching and open to interpretation, 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' has been adapted for film starring Juliette Binoche, Daniel Day-Lewis and Lena Olin. The compelling tale is available online, in Chicagoland bookstores and area libraries.