When I bought this book years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I was still the immature kid who wanted to show an air of superiority then, and I thought that having this book in my library would add to the effect.
But I did not read it immediately. Maybe I was too busy then? My best friend saw this book and she borrowed it. Coincidentally, she was trying to call me from London last night, but I was not able to take her call because I was in deep slumber. But that’s beside the point.
She told me that the book is wonderful, telling me how the narrative flows and how the author shifts from plot to philosophy and vice versa. I have a huge respect for her taste, so I considered reading it as soon as she returned it to me.
Two men, two women, and a dog. And Prague! I am dying to see Prague! Just imagine having a philosophical discussion in that city, and maybe rereading the lives of the five characters in the novel.
The book’s label as a philosophical novel makes reading it quite a challenge. Not that it is as hard to read as, say Tropic of Cancer, but you have to at least prepare yourself for possible mental wrangling. Like Nietzsche’s concepts. They never fail to make me a tad uncomfortable, although I only have bare ideas on his writings. They are presented here, but one does not need a degree in philosophy. One only needs an open mind.
Nietzsche says, loosely, that history will keep repeating itself. Kundera proposes something not completely opposite. He says that people can only live once. Kundera associates Nietzsche’s concept with weight, and his own with lightness. To know more about it, you better read the opening chapter. I fear I can never explain it to you without plagiarizing, and I believe this is a critical point that the reader has to find out for himself.
And so, throughout the novel, the lightness versus weight thing is examined. I think this can never be resolved because I think neither of the two is the negative one, although Kundera says that heaviness is the negative part of the pair.
Really now, consider a purse filled with coins. Or a heart measured by virtues. We would want both to be heavy, right? And how about movement? We would like to be light to move faster and more freely, right? So it is hard to make a choice between the two.
Disregarding this, the novel itself is a wonder. We are taken on a rollercoaster ride with the entangled relationships of the two couple. Each character is well-formed so you root for all of them. I don’t think any of them is the antagonist.
There are also motifs all over, and yes, one of them is the bowler hat. So what is so important in this bowler hat? What does it stand for? Why is it worn by a woman? Why does it float in some book covers?
And why do I want one for myself after reading the novel?
Tereza, one of the characters, fell in love with Tomas because she saw him reading a book in a café. What a lovely idea! Personally, I try to peek at the title of the book that a stranger is reading.
I usually see readers on a train, which is quite weird because I should see more in coffee shops. But I don’t go to coffee shops usually. Anyway, one train passenger, despite the densely packed car and despite his lack of seat, whipped out a book from his messenger bag. I took a glance. The book was black. I stared. The cover was stare. I twisted my neck to catch the title. The book was wide open then. I recognized the font. It looks like… Cormac McCarthy’s The Road! I waited for confirmation.
I was right! I looked from book to face. The man is handsome, a little Chinesey, and maybe in his mid-thirties. What a lovely idea of me striking a conversation with him! But it occurred to me that I don’t like being disturbed when I’m reading.
So I let him enjoy his book while I secretly imprint his face on my mind. I don’t remember how he looks like now.