Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The most profound and far-reaching of Kundera’s novels, The Unbearable Lightness of Being demonstrates his mastery of the postmodernist form. His earlier works have blended political satire with a sense of life’s absurdity and a distinctive combination of eros and humor. As in Zert (1967; The Joke, 1969, revised 1982), Smesne lasky (1969; Laughable Loves, 1974), La Vie est ailleurs (1973; Life Is Elsewhere, 1974), and Kniha smichu a zapomneni (1978; The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, 1980), the private, erotic realm becomes for Kundera’s characters a means of personal expression in a world where public expression of individuality is impossible. It is a mistake, however, to read Kundera merely as a political, satirical, or erotic writer. He is all of these and more: a passionate defender of Western culture—philosophy, music, and literature—against the artistic repression of totalitarian kitsch, the fraudulent sentimentality of politics.