Tomas is visiting a provincial town in Czechoslovakia to perform surgery when he meets Tereza in a café, where she works as a waitress. Shortly after he returns home to Prague, she turns up at his apartment with a heavy suitcase. They make love immediately. She then comes down with flu, and he is unable to make her leave his apartment for a week afterward. Even when he has installed her in an apartment of her own, he is unable to leave her.
Although Tomas loves Tereza as he has loved no other woman, he is unable to give up seeing other women. Chief among these is the artist Sabina. Sabina resembles Tomas in her wish not to be weighed down by the heavy burden of love and in her tendency to betray those who threaten her freedom. At Tomas’s request, Sabina finds work for Tereza in a photographic darkroom and encourages her to develop her talent for photography. The two women become friends, though their relationship is affected by Tereza’s awareness of Sabina’s continuing relationship with Tomas.
Tomas marries Tereza and buys her a dog, which they name Karenin. Both actions are partly motivated by Tomas’s desire to try to make amends for his womanizing. Tereza’s efforts to tolerate Tomas’s lifestyle are undermined by her recurring dreams that reveal her inability to accept his infidelities. When he recognizes the suffering his actions cause Tereza, Tomas is racked with guilt, but he is still unable to stop seeing other women.
Following the liberalization of Czechoslovakia under the leadership of Alexander Dubek (the Prague Spring), Soviet tanks roll into Prague and a military occupation begins. Tereza roams the streets with her camera, capturing the horrors of the occupation on film. She gives the film to foreign visitors to smuggle out of the country and publish abroad. When Tomas is offered a job in Zurich, Switzerland, he and Tereza move there. His passport is taken as he crosses the border, so he knows that if he ever goes back to Czechoslovakia, it will be for the rest of his life.
Sabina is already living in Switzerland, in Geneva. She becomes involved with Franz, a university lecturer. Franz is...
(The entire section is 883 words.)