Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558

When The Unbearable Lightness of Being appeared in 1984, it immediately became an international bestseller, garnering awards throughout the world, including a Los Angeles Times Book Award. Contemporary reviews of the novel were largely positive. Paul Gray, in a Time review, calls The Unbearable Lightness of Being "a triumph of wisdom over bitterness, hope over despair." Maureen Howard in the Yale Review writes, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the most rewarding new novel I've read in years." Thomas DePietro in Commonweal hones in on the heart of the book. He observes that The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a book of "burning compassion, extraordinary intelligence, and dazzling artistry." DePietro also notes the book "leaves us with many questions, questions about love and death, about love and transcendence. These are our burdens, the existential questions that never change but need to be asked anew."

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Not all reviewers were enchanted with the book, however. Christopher Hawtree, in a Spectator review, faults Kundera for a "most off-putting" title and finds irksome the "elliptical structure" of the work. With faint praise, however, he acknowledges the novel is "a self-referential whole that manages not to alienate the reader." Wendy Lesser in the Hudson Review is even blunter, calling The Unbearable Lightness of Being "a bad novel." She particularly finds fault with Kundera's characterizations:

The mistake Kundera makes is to treat his characters like pets. He thinks what he feels for them is love, whereas it's merely an excess of self. If it were really love, we would be able to push aside that gigantic authorial face that looms out of the pages of Kundera's novel . . . and find behind it the tiny, human, flawed faces of real novelistic characters. But they aren't there. Behind that leering, all-obliterating mask is nothing.

Scholarly interest in The Unbearable Lightness of Being continues unabated. Literary critics have found a variety of ways to read the novel. For example, John O'Brien in his book Milan Kundera and Feminism focuses on Kundera's representation of woman. He most notably studies the relationship between Tereza and Sabina, suggesting that Tereza represents "weight" and Sabina represents "lightness." O'Brien next...

(The entire section contains 558 words.)

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