The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The book is by Milan Kundera, a Czech-Franco writer. The novel was originally written in Czech. I read the English version of the book, translated by Michael Henry Heim.

I really liked this book once I started reading it. As I read along I began to copy down the quote from the book since I thought they are wonderful. Once I showed part of my quotes to a friend, she also liked them. So I had the idea of making a webpage for it. I have a theory that this book gives an answer to almost all questions about life, love, and faith.

  •   [PART 4, 5 (page 104)]

    Cemeteries in Bohemia are like gardens. The graves are covered with grass and colorful flowers. Modest tombstones are lost in the greenery. When the sun goes down, the cemetery sparkles with tiny candles. It looks as though the dead are dancing at a children's ball. Yes, a children's ball, because the dead are as innocent as children. No matter how brutal life becomes, peace always reigns in the cemetery. Even in wartime, in Hitler's time, in Stalin's time, through all occupations. When she felt low, she would get into the car, leave Prague for behind, and walk through one or another of the country cemeteries she loved so well. Against a backdrop of blue hills, they were as beautiful as a lullaby.

  •   [PART 4, 8 (page 116)]

    That night, she made love to him with greater frenzy than ever before, aroused by the realization that this was the last time. Making love, she was far, far away. Once more she heard the golden horn of betrayal beckoning her in the distance, and she knew she would not hold out. She sensed an expanse of freedom before her, and the boundlessness of it excited her. She made mad, unrestrained love to Franz as she never had before.

    Franz sobbed as he lay on top of her; he was certain he understood: Sabina had been quiet all through dinner and said not a word about his decision, but this was her answer. She has made a clear show of her joy, her passion, her consent, her desire to live with him forever.

    He felt like a rider galloping off into a magnificent void, a void of no wife, no daughter, no household, the magnificent void swept clean by Hercules' broom, a magnificent void he would fill with his love.

    Each was riding the other like a horse, and both were galloping off into the distance of their desires, drunk on the betrayals that freed them, Franz was riding Sabina and had betrayed his wife; Sabina was riding Franz and had betrayed Franz.

  • ON SEX
  •   [PART 4, 8 (page 142)]

    What is flirtation? One might say that it is behavior leading another to believe that sexual intimacy is possible, while preventing that possibility from becoming a certainty. In other words, flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee.

  •   [PART 5, 8 (page 197)]

    Here he is, doing things he didn't care a damn about, and enjoying it. Now he understood what made people (people he always pitied) happy when they took a job without feeling the compulsion of an internal "Es muss sein!" and forgot it the moment they left for home every evening. This was the first time he had felt that blissful indifference. Whenever anything went wrong on the operating table, he would be despondent and unable to sleep. He would even lose his taste for women. The "Es muss sein!" of his profession has been like a vampire sucking his blood.

    Now he roamed the streets of Prague with brush and pole, feeling ten years younger. The salesgirls all called him "doctor" (the Prague bush telegraph was working better than ever) and asked his advice about their colds, aching backs, and irregular periods. They seems almost embarrassed to watch him douse the glass with water, fit the brush on the end of the pole, and start washing. If they could have left their customers alone in the shops, they would surely have grabbed the pole from his hands and washed the windows for him.

  •   [PART 5, 15 (page 223)]

    If Czech history could be repeated, we should of course find it desirable to test the other possibility each time and compare the results. Without such an experiment, all considerations of this kind remains a game of hypothesis.

    Einmal ist Keinmal. What happens but once might as well not have happened at all. The history of Czechs will not be repeated, not will the history of Europe. The history of the Czech and of Europe is a pair of sketches from the pen of human life, unbearably light, light as a feature, as dust swirling into the air, as whatever will no longer exist tomorrow.

  •   [PART 5, 23 (page 238)]

    He suddenly recalled the famous myth from Plato's Symposium: People were hermaphrodites until God split them in two, and now all the halves wander the world over seeking one another. Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.

    Let us suppose that such it the case, that somewhere in the world each of us has a partner who one formed part of our body. Tomas's other part is the young woman he dreamed about. The trouble is, man does not find the other part of himself. Instead, he is sent Tereza in a bulrush basket. But what happens if he nevertheless later meets the one who was meant for him, the other part of himself? Whom is he to prefer? The woman from the bulrush basket or the woman from Plato's myth?

    He tried to picture himself living in an ideal world with the young woman from the dream. He sees Tereza walking past the open windows of their ideal house. She is alone and stops to look in at him with an infinitely sad expression in her eyes. He cannot withstand her glance. Again, he feels her pain in his own heart. Again, he falls prey to compassion and sinks deep into her soul. He leaps out of the window, but she tells him bitterly to stay where he feels happy, making those abrupt, angular movements that so annoyed and displeased him. He grabs her nervous hands and presses them between his own to calm them. And he knows that time and again he will abandon the house of his happiness, time and again abandon his paradise and the woman from his dream and betray the "Es muss sein!" of his love to go off with Tereza, the woman born of six laughable fortuities.

  •   [PART 6, 8 (page 251)]

    The feeling induced by kitsch must be kind the multitudes can share. Kitsch may not, therefore, depend on an unusual situation; it must derive from the basic images people have engraved in their memories: the ungrateful daughter, the neglected father, children running on the grass, the motherland betrayed, first love.

    Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!

    The second tears says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!

    It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.

    The brotherhood of man on earth will be possible only on a base of kitsch.

  •   [PART 7, 4 (page 295)]

    Why was the word "idyll" so important to Tereza?

    Raised as we are on the mythology of the Old Testament, we might say that an idyll is an image that has remained with us like a memory of Paradise: life in Paradise was not like following a straight line to the unknown; it was not an adventure. It moved in a circle among known objects. Its monotony bred happiness, not boredom.


    It is completely selfless love: Tereza did not want anything of Karenin; She did not ever ask him to love her back. Nor has she ever asked herself the questions that plague human couples: Does he love me? Does he love anybody more than me? Does he love me more than I love him? Perhaps all the questions we ask of love, to measure, test, probe, and save it, have the additional effect of cutting it short. Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company.

  •   [PART 7, 7 (page 308)]

    "I used to admire believers", Tomas continued. "I thought they had an odd transcendental way of perceiving things which was closed to me. Like clairvoyants, you might say. But my son's experience proves that faith is actually quite a simple matter. He was down and out, the Catholics took him in, and before he knew it, had had faith. So it was gratitude that decided the issue, most likely. Human decisions are terribly simple."

  •   [PART 7, 7 (page 313)]

    When Tereza came back from the dance floor with the young man, the chairman asked her to dance, and finally Tomas has a turn with her, too.

    "Tomas", she said to him out on the floor, "everything bad that's happened in your life is my fault. It's my fault you ended up here, as low as you could possibly go."

    "Low? What are you talking about?"

    "If we has stayed in Zurich, you'd still be a surgeon."

    "And you'd be a photographer."

    "That's a silly comparison to make," said Tereza, "Your work meant everything to you; I don't care what I do, I can do anything, I haven't lost a thing; you've lost everything."

    "Haven't you notice I've been happy here, Tereza?" Tomas said.

    "Surgery was your mission," she said.

    "Missions are stupid, Tereza. I have no mission, No one has. And it's a a terrific relief to realize you're free, free of all missions."

    Ke Yang
    Last modified: Tue Jan 20 23:56:37 EST 2004