The best things in life are free

The best things in life are free. Love is free. Kissing is free. Kindness is free. Reading is free. Listening to music is free. Strolling in the park is free. Jogging is free. Swimming is free. Singing is free. Admiring the October sun is free. Thinking is free. Hugging your kid is free. Being polite is free. Discussing with your best friend is free.

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Photo credit: Mihai Scarlat

So, how much money do you really need to be happy ?

Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being – A novel about a completely selfless and unconditional love

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.

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Photo credit: Mihai Scarlat

Milan Kundera – The Joke – The intolerance to irony is the mark of totalitarianism

I think the name of the novel, The Joke, is carefully chosen. The Czech writer Milan Kundera’s novel hits the right nail on the head: to my mind, one of the easiest ways to test whether a political regime is moving towards totalitarianism is to pay attention to the degree of intolerance to irony. An authoritarian and repressive regime develops a chronic phobia to irony. Because humor is, after all, a solid guarantee for the independent thinking and spirituality and, therefore, any form of totalitarianism seeks to repress it.

Kundera’s book is worth reading, nevertheless. It is worth reading not just to have an idea about the similarities between different forms of communism, specific of different countries in Eastern and Central Europe (in my case between Romania and Czechoslovakia) or about the changes within the communist system over a generation (the ’60s meant something else than the ’40s). The Joke is worth reading, among other things, for the exemplary way in which illustrates the idea of dependency of one person on a certain context of living.

We are different in different contexts of life. Under different circumstances or when living among other people we transform ourselves. We think we know well a person. And, in the end, we discover that we don’t know anything about him/her. Because we only can have a vague idea of what that man/woman represents; we know that person in a single narrative context. Even when a big love is at stake, the possibility of knowing a person remains dependent on a certain context. When the context has changed, the person has transformed into a stranger to us. From this perspective, relevant in Kundera’s book is the love stories between Ludvik and Lucia and between Kostka and Lucia.

The weird Kostka meant a lot to her; he knew her better and he knew better how to love her: she trusted him completely; not me, him; … And yet, in order to make love to her (and I desperately wanted her body) suffice it was to understand her, to love her not only for her feelings directed towards me, but for those things that had nothing to do with me. … Kostka, nevertheless, knew Lucia and he knew, of course, a lot of things about her. And yet, there was one thing he missed. And this thing was the essential one. … and if she kept secret this thing from Kostka, if she kept secret from Kostka our six months of pure love, full of tenderness and sweetness, it means that he don’t know her either.