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Picks and Pans Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

updated 05/14/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/14/1984 01:00AM

by Milan Kundera

"The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become," writes the author. "Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant...What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?" This is a strikingly original novel about a Czech surgeon who has many women, but despite himself falls in love with a pretty waitress from a small town. When she comes to Prague to live with him, she grows jealous of his other affairs. The Russians take over the country and the couple goes to Switzerland where the surgeon gets a job in a hospital. But his previous favorite mistress is there too. While this book has an engrossing plot, it is far more than a conventional novel. It is a meditation on life, on the erotic, on the nature of men and women and love. Unbearable Lightness is full of telling details, truths large and small, to which just about every reader will respond. Few American writers, alas, even try to write books like this. Kundera, author of The Joke, left his native Czechoslovakia after the Russians invaded in 1968. He and his wife now live in France. (Harper & Row, $15.95)

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