The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

“Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 314 pages.
Read from April 11, 2019 to April 17, 2019.

Readers of this book either love it or hate and I would say that both opinions would be valid. The book covers a large scope of history specific to Czechoslovakia with manipulative, provocative, and dynamic characters. The majority of the book is set in Prague, Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and 1970s and specifically during a time of political reform called the Prague Spring. Milan Kundera, the author, is of Czech origin but has lived in exile in France since 1971, where he became a naturalised citizen in 1981. Milan’s books were banned under the communist rule in Czechoslovakia and remained banned until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Readers have speculated if any of the characters in this book and many of Milan’s others are in any way autobiographical, to which Milan responded in a 1985 interview with New York Times,

“No character in my novels is a self-portrait, nor are any of my characters the portrait of a living person. I don’t like disguised autobiographies. I hate writers’ indiscretions.”

The Unbearable Lightness of Being follows the lives of two men, two women, and one dog and how their lives intertwine during the years of political upheaval in Czechoslovakia. Tomas is a womanizing surgeon who marries the young and vulnerable Tereza, despite his inability (unwillingness) to be faithful. He claims to love Tereza more than anything but cannot give up seeing other women and battles his feelings for Tereza through the entire novel. Tomas even taunts her in her sleep by whispering in her ear his infidelities which causes Tereza to have horrendous and violent dreams about him with other women. Tereza is miserable and mad with jealousy but the two of them just can’t seem to be apart. The two of them have a delightful dog named Karenin who adores Tereza. One of Toma’s long-time lovers, Sabina has a similar nature to Tomas in how she treats her lovers but she has a turbulent history of her own that has made her that way. Franz is one of her lovers.  Each of the characters works their way through their turbulent relationships and personal faults as the country fills with the uproar of communism.

This prose of this book is undeniably poetic and beautiful giving it redeeming qualities long past its intriguing story, though not every reader has felt that way.

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

Many find Milan’s writing dry and dull, while others, myself included, find it to be brilliant. As I opened this review, readers either love or hate this book because is like an invitation into this place of history and into the lives of these people and if you’re not interested in either from the beginning the book will do little for you. The depth at which Milan exposes his characters is rich and at times unnervingly honest. He discusses love and personal faults in a way most would not find romantic but at least poetic and realistic, giving the topics their own unique sense of beauty and awe. Toma’s is not good to Tereza with his womanising ways but as the backstory on each character grows you find fault with each character and see how they tend to create their own dynamic miseries making you empathise with them all on one way or another.

I would recommend this book for those that enjoy literary fiction, history and historical fiction, philosophical or poetic prose (especially if you enjoyed Proust) or honest and flawed characters.

The Monsters We Deserve by Marcus Sedgwick

“Almost everyone has an inborn need to create; in most people this is thwarted and forgotten, and the drive is pushed into other activities that are less threatening, less difficult, and less rewarding. In some people, that need to create is transmuted into the need to destroy.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 145 pages.
March 10, 2019 to March 11, 2019.

This book is one of those delightful Goodreads finds. A reviewer I follow gushed about how brilliant this book is and after reading the description I was hooked.

A horror writer is staying in a remote cabin in the French Alps to finish a book he is struggling to write. The author is drawn to the classic horror novel, Frankenstein, but not because he enjoys the book, in fact, he despises it. As the narrator draws his own conclusions about the horror genre in an attempt to write his own book he discusses the weak points of Frankenstein, details of the author, Mary Shelley’s history and life, all the while making philosophical remarks about how we create our own monsters along with the nuances of the reading and writing processes.

“Orwell’s vision of our terrible future was that world– the world in which books are banned or burned. Yet it is not the most terrifying world I can think of. I think instead of Huxley– …I think of his Brave New World. His vision was the more terrible, especially because now it appears to be rapidly coming true, whereas the world of 1984 did not. What’s Huxley’s horrific vision? It is a world where there is no need for books to be banned, because no one can be bothered to read one.”

As the story progresses the narrator begins to be visited by ghosts, first by Mary Shelley herself and then by the characters in her book. As the narrator navigates this dreamlike horror, he realizes that he is going to have to face the monster of Shelley’s creation and of his own.

This short novel leaves the reader wondering what actually happens to the narrator and how much of this tense story is real or metaphorical. The writing is smart, highly creative and very well paced making for an engaging read. The story reads like a diary or an essay that focuses on the unique writing process of a horror story, the act of creation itself, and of course, our own personal monsters. I particularly enjoyed the author’s comments on the creative process and how he looks at writing in general as they’re bookmark worthy spots if you need help breaking up a writer’s block.

“The binary colour of words on a page give the sense of simplicity and clarity. But life doesn’t work like that. And neither should a good story. A good story ought to leave a little grey behind, I think.”

This book may not be for everyone however as its approach and topics are slightly unusual. The story is a quick read so its a good candidate if you’re looking to catch up on your reading goal or even if you’re looking for something exceptionally different than your usual reads. If you love horror, are familiar with the author, or are a writer yourself, you may find this book is perfect for you.

Acne: Just Another Four-Letter Word by Aarti Patel

“Acne is shaped by our thoughts, our emotions, and also by social influences all around us.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 131 pages.
Read from April 28, 2019 to April 29, 2019.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review (thanks Aarti). While I don’t have a hefty battle with acne, I do contend with dermatillomania in which the frustrating feeling of helplessness and shame are remarkably similar to those suffering from acne. Such as the of never-ending obsessive thoughts about your skin, whether that’s covering it up, faster ways to heal it, or the constant search for that miracle product or system that will help break the vicious cycle of anxiety and negativity.

The purpose of this book is meant to shape the way you view your skin and your acne. The author defines acne as a bully, by giving it its own persona and making it something other than yourself. Similar approaches are taken when viewing things like depression or anxiety, in that these thoughts and feelings are not you and don’t define who you are. The author also addresses the extremes that many of us go through in order to deal with our skin from fad diets to expensive skin care regimes that ultimately make us feel as if our bad skin is of our own fault and if we can just somehow control it with the right diet, skin care, exercise etc. our life will be better. The author has a flowing and easy to read writing style that’s technically good and works well for the topic at hand.

While I cannot speak for the author’s claims on curing acne with this kind of thinking, it is still a beneficial approach for anyone who has ever struggled with their skin. I appreciate her sentiments on the approaches the medical field takes towards acne but it would have been nice to see some case studies, testimonials, or even some anecdotal evidence to support her claims as it would have added some scientific clarity to her work.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend this book as a cure, there is something to be said about the mind and body connection and reducing stress and anxiety. This book would be beneficial for anyone who struggles with insecurities, depression, or anxiety involving their skin, regardless of the physical outcome as changing negative thought patterns is one way in regain control over our worries and vicious thought cycles.