by Milan Kundera

Paper Book, 1990





New York : Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, c1990.


From the author of 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being', this is a comic vision of our anxiety about immortality.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bibliobibuli
As much a conversation with the reader as a novel, Kundera obeys his own maxim "A novel should not be like a bicycle race but a feast of many courses": the plot meanders at a leisurely pace and explores ideas about the nature of immortality, human love and sexuality along the way, drawing in characters historical figures such as Goethe and Bettina, Hemingway and Dali. At the same time, the distinction between story and storyteller becomes blurred, the picture frame becoming part of the picture, as the writer enters his own story, meeting up with his characters in the final scene.

One of Kundera's greatest skills is to show the internal landscape of his characters, the very colours of their souls, and in so economical a fashion. A puppet master showing the strings, Kundera creates his main character from a gesture, with casual sleight of hand, and the main events for his story from half heard extracts of radio programmes.

There's plenty to chew over, even after finishing the book. My mind keeps coming back to the scene where Agnes imagines a stranger visiting her and asking her (in her husband's company) whether she wants to be together with him in her next incarnation in another world. The acid test for any love. She is faced with the dilemma of telling the truth and hurting Paul, or lying to save his feelings.

There are also some wonderfully quotable lines in the book and I kept finding myself reaching for a piece of paper to write down some of the best. I loved:- "Our heads are full of dreams, but our behinds drag us down like an anchor". How true!
Kundera is very good company and I enjoyed the book, but feel that The Unbearable Lightness of Being is by far the stronger novel.
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LibraryThing member gretchenkk
Why do people search out immortality? Is it worth it? These and many other questions are ... discussed. Milan Kundera does an amazing job (as always) putting philosophy into an understandable story.
LibraryThing member turtlesleap
Kundera's novel is a complex dialogue on mankind's quest for immortality, interwoven with perspectives on love, erotica, morality and art. One must pay close attention to this work or risk missing key elements.

In speaking about novels in general, Kundera says, "Dramatic tension is the real curse of the novel, transforming . . . the most beautiful pages . . . into steps leading to the resolution." He likens the enjoyment of a novel to the enjoyment of delicious food--an experience to be enjoyed for its own sake and not for the purpose of getting to the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member dreamingtereza
While The Unbearable Lightness of Being is my favorite of Kundera's novels, Immortality is clearly the superior work. Here Kundera shies away from the political preoccupations that figure so heavily into his earlier works and magically weaves together so many disparate characters (his primary fictional set, the author himself, and various historical personalities) and situations (Goethe and Hemingway's discussion of their views of immortality is priceless!) into a cohesive narrative so that the result is positively dizzying and profoundly rewarding. Immortality is replete with Kundera's usual clever observations as well as his offbeat, wry humor (not the first thing that comes to mind when discussing this author!). Immortality is best appreciated once a reader has a couple of other Kundera works under his belt.… (more)
LibraryThing member valeriesilliman
This is the third Kundera book I've read. I'd recommend The Unbearable Lightness of Being before either this or Forever Waltz. There are many characters in this book, including Kundera himself, and sometimes the narrative is lost. This is something that makes the book interesting, and threatens it strength. In a line when Kundera is speaking as himself he says that if even one sentence is missed one will not understand the book, and recognizes that he himself never reads every line of a book, and so his book will never be understood. This line is toward the second half and you wonder, "what, wait?"

There are many great passages, beautiful images, deep thoughts, tricky plays in this book. If only its continuity wasn't disrupted so often.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Kundera does here more or less what Günter Grass does in Headbirths: it's a spare if not skeletal story, a knot of intersubjectivities laid out around a thorny metaphysical question which the author is attempting to define as well as answer, and so comes at multilaterally--with the tale of a troubled family; with the extended essayistic digressions of the cerebral, sometimes cold Central European public intellectual; with a parallel thread on Goethe and Bettina von Arnim, a metacommentary from the afterlife provided by Goether and (in a hammy cameo) Hemingway; a magisterial professor-figure who brings the action's circle to its close, gives it its meaning, and brings the cogitating author and his heartsad characters together to talk about it.

And so what's the question? It involves fear of death, I guess, and the need to make a mark--the titular "immortality" might in many ways have been "legacy" or even just "remembrance". It involves the belief, which I do not share, that total love is the only love, and as a result that love is something most of us never experience. It suggests that a world without love is a really, well, lovely one in someways--art and war both become impossible too; contrast the elevated emotions and horror of the 19th and 20th centuries with what in some small ways is perhaps becoming a more decent, less brutal Western civilization, and recall that Harold Bloom thought the Romantic era never ended--Kundera calling the travesty-enabling phenomenon that Bloom describes a "hypertrophy of the soul".

This dilemma, whatever it is, also seemingly comes out of the insistence on the right to a private life, to lies, to the refusal to justify oneself. It worries a lot about coincidence, about erotic tension and its loss, and it may protest too much with its weird combo of relentless virility and surging anomie. I think of the Foucauldian injunction to enjoy. But this is Kundera, after all, and I must say I find the older Kundera of 1990 much less aggressively obliquely sexbraggy than the younger Kundera of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and as a result more pleasant to be around. He's even sometimes funny(!), just funny,in an uncomplicated unconsidered no-ulterior-motives way--Brigitte's apologetic warguilty German teacher could have come out of, I dunno, Fawly Towers.

And if Kundera's obvious earnestness to map out the amorphous region of human hurt and desire where he has staked his claim can sometimes be pedantic or banal or incomprehensible or like he doesn't have it worked out yet or like he's throwing in a stylistic flourish to distract you from that fact or like he's talking to you like you're two, you still get the feeling that he's trying honestly and seriously with the tools at his disposal--that he wants to say something true and have us find it useful. (A feeling, once again, that I never got from TULoB.). That'd be his immortality, then.
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LibraryThing member Snakeshands
Possibly even better than Unbearable Lightness, if only because it so piercingly hits some of my most personal experiences but with LESS GENDER ESSENTIALISM. Not quite as heartbreaking, but the only other book of his that gives that same indescribable aura of being an Important Book to Your Life. A much better second read of his than Laughter and Forgetting, if only because that one is too similar to Lightness but slightly worse.… (more)
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
It starts off beautifully. The narrator is poolside, watching an older woman make a playful, girlish, and even flirty gesture to her swim instructor as she is leaving. Watching her act so young, so unaware of her actual age prompts the narrator to ponder ageism and what it would mean to be truly ageless. From there the novel meanders through fact and fiction, weaving real historical figures like Goethe and Hemingway with fictional ones like the woman from the pool, Agnes. Kundera's writing breaks boundaries because the style is a conversation with the reader, a philosophical journey through topics like relationships, sex and of course, immortality.… (more)
LibraryThing member rmagahiz
It has just a little bit of plot and a smidgen of character underneath a great deal of philosophy, so it's definitely not for everyone. But I found it entertaining and surprising, even the parts where I felt completely lost in the ramblings and grotesqueries the author includes quite self-consciously.
LibraryThing member kirstiecat
Pretty much everything Milan Kundera ever wrote is brilliant but this is one of my absolute favorites. There is so much in here to take away about human identity and as usual such richness of story. Like many of his books, perhaps meant to be read again and again throughout one's lifetime.
LibraryThing member CarlisleMLH
This is one of those books which, while I have to admit I'm sure I don't really understand most of what it is about, I "resonate" with it intensely. I enjoy Kundera's writing style immensely. I like the way he throws many scenes and ideas at me and trusts me to think deeply about the complex relationships he's presenting, without telling me exactly what conclusions I should draw from them. For how he impacts my mind, I would "rank" him with Tolstoy and with Iris Murdock. What I like best about Kundera's books is that they make me think and with a feeling that thinking and questioning is important; I feel more alive, and I feel it is not only worthwhile being me (existing, and expressing Being in my particular way), but it is also essential to my being that I think about the story of my life and that I choose to further that "story" and contribute to it. I think this is my response particularly to Kundera's "Immortality" because one of the things he's writing "about" is the intersections of "fact" and "fiction.". The fact that he makes himself one of his characters in the novel is the main catalyst for my contemplating the story of my life in this particular way. Like I said, I don't claim to understand everything Kundera is writing "about.". If there are others out there who read this review and have read many of Kundera's books, I would enjoy reading your reflections on his writing and/or learning of any helpful study guides on Kundera, particularly regarding the themes addressed in "Immortality."… (more)
LibraryThing member vguy
Having enjoyed some of Kundera's books before and with a friend's recommendations in my ear I started on this. Great disappointment. A bitty hotchpotch of scenes with Goethe and photographers, Napoleon meeting Goethe, Goethe doing sleazy stuff with young girl, Goethe meeting Hemingway in heaven (for goodness sake!) interspersed with a bunch of parisian bourgeois of no particular interest and empty musings on the image in modern society. Life is too short for "Immortality"… (more)
LibraryThing member ted_newell
A novel of ideas like Musil's Man Without Qualities. The immortality sought stems from a gesture seen by the novelist-god as he looked on an older woman waving to a young lifeguard at a swimming pool -- like the screenplay for "A Separation" came to the writer as he watched a man button his old dad's tunic for him. A real cast of characters with heartbreaks and breakthroughs. Bittersweet to my tastebuds.… (more)


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