Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

SPL Book Bingo 2022, Book 9

Note: This is the ninth in a series of posts about books I read for Seattle Public Library’s 2022 Book Bingo. It fills the Banned or challenged book square on the bingo card, according to a display at my local library; I assumed this was because of its sexual content, but it was actually banned in Czechoslovakia due to its criticism of the Communist government.

So, The Unbearable Lightness of Being was basically fine. I find that I have a notion of it in my head as a book that enjoyed a period of hipness in America, maybe because of the efficient set-em-up-and-knock-em-down summary in Maciej Cegłowski’s Dating Without Kundera. It has some of the trappings that I could see a hip book having — the frank (but never actually sexy) depictions of sex, the pseudo-profound philosophical musings of an omniscient narrator, the mix of political struggle and tawdry personal drama — and while each of these components may have been more or less compelling in their own way, they never gelled into anything greater than the sum of their parts.

I don’t know. Sometimes I’m lukewarm on a book but it still gives me things to think about. This one was just fine, and I have no desire to think about it any more. The narrator’s bloviations were generally laughable. The depiction of life under an oppressive Communist regime was convincingly tense, though it never really seemed to have any stakes. The gender politics were embarrassing: the women have some agency but seem constantly driven by their neuroses, whereas the men’s drives are treated as implacable forces of nature. I don’t think it passed the Bechdel test. So rather than face The Unbearable Prospect of Writing Another Word About This Book,