The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Essays

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The book traces the fortunes and amours of a young student, Ludvik, after his exasperatingly patriotic girlfriend decides to show the authorities a postcard he had written her as a joke: “Optimism is the opium of the people! The appearance of Kundera’s acerbically political novel coincided with—indeed, it was only possible in—the short-lived liberalization of Czech society that has come to be known as the Prague Spring.

Ludvik.” As a result of this whimsy, Ludvik finds himself expelled from the Communist Party and the university, and is eventually conscripted to work in the mines for several years.

Kundera pauses throughout to descant on subjects as diverse as mass psychology, the nature of the novel, and the fate of various heroes of the Czech resistance.

In one of two key chapters entitled “The Angels,” for example, Kundera suddenly interrupts his story, recalling that[s]oon after the Russians occupied my country in 1968, I (like thousands and thousands of other Czechs) lost the privilege of working. At about that time some young friends started paying me regular visits.

At the end of August, 1968, Russian troops abruptly occupied Czechoslovakia, putting an end to the Prague Spring and the reformist government of Alexander Dubcek.

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In a bitterly ironic variation on the fate of his character Ludvik, Kundera was relieved of his teaching position at the Prague Film School and deprived of the right to work.Kundera first came to the notice of American readers in the mid-Seventies with a collection of short stories, was widely held to constitute Kundera’s patent of literary immortality, establishing him, in the words of one reviewer, “as the world’s greatest living writer.”Now, Kundera is indisputably a writer of enormous talent.But precisely because Kundera has assumed such eminence, his work deserves more than indiscriminate celebration.They kept their eyes out for all the pitiful little escape routes we used to avoid encirclement, and they meted out severe punishments to the friends who gave me their names.Characteristically, this sober report is sandwiched between two very different and seemingly unrelated narratives, the first installment of a tale about two naive American schoolgirls at summer school abroad preparing a presentation on Ionesco’s , and Kundera’s essayistic elaboration of a metaphysics of laughter.They were so young that the Russians did not have them on their lists yet and they could remain in editorial offices, schools, and film studios.These fine young friends, whom I will never betray, suggested I use their names as a cover for writing radio and television scripts, plays, articles, columns, film treatments—anything to earn a living.But taken in conjunction with his attempt to downplay the frankly political message of his work, Kundera’s criticisms of the West highlight ambiguities at the heart of his position—ambiguities that force us to question the good faith and ideological motives of this troubling and again, Kundera has praised the “wisdom of the novel” as a counter to the leveling influence of modern society.In the midst of an environment hostile to private life and the integrity of the individual, the novel appears as a sanctuary where the “precious essence of European individualism is held safe as in a treasure chest.” It is thus not surprising that the major thematic concern of Kundera’s fiction, from , is with the fate of the individual in modern society, especially in modern Communist society.was banned and removed from public libraries—“erased,” as Kundera put it, “from the history of Czech literature.” Finally, in 1975, Kundera emigrated to France, where he has since resided.Now, Kundera is indisputably a writer of enormous talent.


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