Almost all of Kundera’s novels are set in Czechoslovia. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in my opinion, deals most intriguingly with the persecution endured by outspoken, anti-regime Czechs starting in the late middle/final third of the twentieth century (out of the ones I’ve read, that is. I’m not even halfway to reading them all).
Several things fascinate me about the dynamics of power, persecution, and politics in this text:
1. I see complex portrayal of the politically rebellious spirit in Tomas. But here, especially in some of the central experiences of punishment and rejection he endures lie parallels, (not literal similarities in the most basic sense of the word, and I like that. It gets a little old to read the works of authors whose every book features either a. a writer or b. an academic) to Kundera’s own life. Kundera lost a prestigous professorial position for political reasons ( He moved to France permanently in 1975, and despite their Czechoslovakian settings, his novels were not published in Czech for many years.
2. The text is unlike many simpler novels in which the spirit of political rebellion is so one-dimensionally glorified that the characters over whom it holds the greatest influence practically earn sainthood. And, as this great transformation takes place, we are shown page after page of evidence that any political efforts these characters get involved in, they enter with and because of their commitment to a cause.
In many other books that have political strife as a large element, characters are, of course, more complex than that. But I like the fact that when I look at Tomas’ political acts and thoughts, I see a character who is SORT OF trying to sort out his own motivations, SOMETIMES not simply not wanting to know because he cannot be honest with himself on a certain issue, but rather not wanting to know something about his own values for reasons that seem to range from boredom with such quests to inability to escape a position he is already said to have taken a stand that he must maintain.
3 . And then there’s the humor element. Sure, it’s degrading for Tomas to go from surgeon to window washer, but there’s something amusing in his liasons with women (especially in the distasteful smell that Teresa discovers in his hair).
These things, to me, seem vital in Kundera’s fight against kitsch, which I also find compelling because Kundera admits that kitsch is sometimes unavoidable and reveals its presence in numerous public and private endeavors that we may not have considered before.
From here, I tend to look into not just Kundera’s views on kitsch, but his larger views on the novel and art in general. After I have done so, I will try to pass this way again and offer a little critical context or me even some analytical insight that I hope my effort to produce and your time spent in reading what I come up with, if anything, will help us all understand the novel better. I myself found this to be one of the more difficult but enjoyable books we’ve read as a group. I’ve also talked to people outside of the group who deserted the text because of its difficulty and thus forfeited the enjoyment that most people I know who stuck with the book ultimately discovered.