Immortality by Milan Kundera

(Translated from Czech by Peter Kussi)

This is a first for me - a book that I found myself immersed in thoroughly, yet a book I cannot begin to write about. It is one of the most nonlinear novels I have ever read.

Kundera the writer observes a casual gesture of a woman, and this creates a character, Agnes, in his mind. The writer holds the reader's hand through Agnes' story; then at various times through the novel he lets go of the reader's hand without warning, and pulls one back into 'reality' where Kundera the writer exists and is writing a novel that he wants to name 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' but will of course name it 'Immortality' when it is done (because that's the book one is holding!). Kundera also explores numerous existential topics, and each discussion is poetic. My favorites were on seeking immortality, the characterization of different types of coincidences, smiles (and the lack thereof) in paintings, and gestures.

If all of the above makes no sense - well - how can it? I don't know how to describe this book. It is very philosophical and very beautiful. It goes into the story of Goethe and Bettina in a way I had not read before. The novel exists in the past, the present, the fictional, the metaphysical, and the afterlife! Is it then that the story itself is immortal in that it travels across time in this manner? The book in places reads like essays. The essays are written by Kundera (translated superbly, one safely assumes, by Kussi), so they in turn read like poetry to me. This is one book I know I will re-read.


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