When I finished Kundera’s most famous book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I felt an unstoppable urge to read it again. This book is like good music; you want to listen to it again and again. I must confess, with no other book I felt such a need to repeat the act of reading as soon as I finished it.
Love affairs, betrayals, different world views, misunderstandings, successive failures, confrontation with the absurdity of communism – all wrapped up in a captivating story, with multiple time dimensions, complicated by various combinations of romances between characters who meet one another in various contexts.
There are so many keys to understand Kundera’s book. The understanding depends on how many and various are the life experiences of the readers.
Now, I suggest one particular key: a completely selfless and unconditional love. Within the Czech writer’s book, the first contact with the unconditional love is when Tomas perceived Tereza as an abandoned baby in a wicker basket. She appeared out of nowhere in his life. And he understood that he couldn’t live without her. All he could do was to love her.
This unconditional love becomes one of the milestones of Tomas complicated life. He gives up everything and follows this amazing unconditional love for the rest of his life.
In the end of the novel, unexpectedly, the reader experiences again another form of unconditional love. Somehow, this love is even more impressive. Just pay attention to the moment when their dog, Karenin, dies.
It is a completely selfless love: Tereza did not want anything of Karenin; she did not ever ask him to love her back. Nor had she ever asked herself the questions that plague human couples: Does he love me? Does he love anyone 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 up to him demand-free and asking for nothing, but his company.
Photo credit: Mihai Scarlat