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The Unbearable Lightness of Being summary

Milan Kundera

Embark on an Incredible Journey Through the Complexities of Love

4.2 (52 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is a philosophical novel that explores the complexities of love, identity, and the freedom of choice in a turbulent political landscape.

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    The Unbearable Lightness of Being
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    Tereza and Tomas: Between lightness and weight

    Meet Tomas, a successful surgeon living in Prague. Tomas is known for his numerous affairs and detached emotional life, following the rule of threes: he will either see a girl three times in quick succession, then never again, or he will maintain the relationship but never see his lover more than once every three weeks.

    Tomas’s carefree lifestyle is challenged when he meets Tereza, a waitress in a provincial café. After being captivated by Tereza, he invites her to visit him in Prague. Eager to escape her small town and overbearing mother, Tereza accepts. Soon she’s standing at Tomas’s doorstep with her entire life packed into a suitcase.

    And so the complex relationship grows. Tomas, though initially resistant, is particularly taken by Tereza. After their first night together, they wake up together holding hands – an intimacy he never normally allows or enjoys. Eventually he breaks his rule of threes, and they move in together. However, Tomas’s infidelity and womanizing remains.

    In time, Tereza learns of Tomas’s infidelity after reading letters he sent to a lover – Sabina. Tereza is consumed by jealousy and insecurity, though she doesn’t leave him. Instead, she suffers the pain of his philandering and has intense and violent dreams where she’s pushing pins under her nails, or that she’s one of many unnamed women being shot by Tomas. She still feels a profound bond with Tomas, and struggles to accept him for who he is.

    In her attempt to understand him, she meets and becomes friends with the lover, Sabina. Through Sabina, Tereza gets a job as a photographer, capturing pictures of the recently arrived Russian soldiers. Despite this friendship, Tereza’s jealousies remain.

    Seeking to reassure Tereza, Tomas marries her. He doesn’t give up his infidelity, but he finds that he doesn’t enjoy it as much. Together, they get a dog; although it’s male, they name it Karenin, after the Russian princess in the Tolstoy book that Tereza is reading. The dog takes an immediate liking to Tereza.

    Finally, amid the increasing dangers of the political turmoil, Tereza and Tomas flee to Switzerland – and a new chapter in their life.


    Through the characters of Tereza and Tomas, we’re introduced to the central theme of the novel: the tension between lightness and weight. Here, Tomas represents “lightness” – his detached view of love, his determination to not be tied down. He even has a child from a previous marriage, but he’s content with the distance that has grown between them. Both emotionally and physically, Tomas seems adrift on the breeze.

    Tereza, on the other hand, is the embodiment of weight. Her love and her emotions weigh on her. When she arrives in Prague to visit Tomas, she brings her entire life in a suitcase – you can imagine the literal and physical weight of that case.

    The way their relationship develops shows the conflicting nature of those two opposite yet complementary concepts, and raises questions about the very nature of love. Is it freeing or binding? And can these different attitudes ever be reconciled?

    As Tereza tries to find her own sense of control and identity, she turns to photojournalism – ironically at the suggestion of Tomas’s main lover, Sabina. This profession represents her own type of freedom, and ties the story to the political conflict of the time. 

    Following the so-called Prague Spring – a period where the Soviet Union tightened its oppressive grip on Czechoslovakia – Tereza’s pictures of the tanks and soldiers give her life a sense of excitement and danger. This danger ultimately becomes too much, and the couple flees to the Western-aligned Switzerland.

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    What is The Unbearable Lightness of Being about?

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) tells the story of the intertwined lives of two couples navigating love, politics, and existential dilemmas in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia. By exploring the concepts of “lightness” and “weight” it offers reflections on fate, the choices we make in life, and the very nature of existence.

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being Review

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) by Milan Kundera explores the intricacies of love, relationships, and the meaning of life. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • With its layered characters and exploration of existential themes, this book offers a thought-provoking and insightful narrative.
    • Kundera's keen observations on human nature and the complexities of emotions make for a deeply engaging reading experience.
    • The interplay of philosophy and storytelling in this work creates a unique and intellectually stimulating blend that keeps readers captivated throughout.

    Who should read The Unbearable Lightness of Being?

    • Philosophers looking to explore the nature of existence through a classic narrative
    • History buffs interested in personal lives amid the politics of Soviet-era Czechoslovakia
    • Artists curious about the interplay between personal freedom and societal constraints

    About the Author

    Milan Kundera was a Czech-born French writer acclaimed for his philosophical depth and exploration of love, politics, and identity. Known for his intricate narrative style and blending of fiction with philosophy, Kundera garnered international recognition and numerous awards. His other best-selling works include The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and Slowness.

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    The Unbearable Lightness of Being FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Unbearable Lightness of Being?

    The main message of The Unbearable Lightness of Being explores the concept of the weight of choices and the impact of love and relationships in our lives.

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    The reading time for The Unbearable Lightness of Being varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Unbearable Lightness of Being a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a thought-provoking novel that delves into philosophical themes and offers deep insights into the human experience. It's definitely worth a read!

    Who is the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being?

    The author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being is Milan Kundera.

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