Clearing my bookshelves a few weeks ago interestingly undiscovered in my collection a novel book Immortality written by Milan Kundera. It was 1991 edition and its pages turned brownish yellow. I could not recall any experience of reading or any reason of missing this Kundera’s work. It has stood completely bored in my bookshelf for about 20 years. Someone may have the habit of buying books, leaving them in the bookshelves and never flipping a page. This is not my way of treating my books, and Immortality is somewhat an unexplainable omission. I finally spent my time on the yellowish pages and went deep into the exceptional context constructed by the marvellous Kundera. Yes, good books are always immortal.
The high popularity of Kundera in modern literature is apparently attributed to his masterpiece Unbearable Lightness of Being. The erotic life of Tomas, a Czech surgeon, who could not stop having sex with different women, and the seriousness of Tereza, a talented photographer, who dedicated her whole love to the beloved, are sharp and contrast contradictions of human nature. A theoretically organised scientist looks for fascinating sex life whilst a theoretically open-minded artist demands forever fidelity. Kundera further fused the passion of Tomas and Tereza with the politics of Prague Spring 1968. Someone would sympathise Tomas, as one should not surrender to the totalitarian system and everyone shall be free and light. Kundera is a kind of novelist who would bring you into an intellectual context far behind the story. Inspiration is the trademark of Kundera’s novels.
Kundera created Immortality in a much extraordinary way. Patience is required when you start reading the book, as the writing angle is not expressly clear at the beginning. Kundera mentioned that he created the main character Agnes at a pool side in
when he noted an unusual gesture and smile of an old woman waving to the lifeguard. Agnes however was not completely fictional in the novel. There was a common character Professor Avenarius existing between Agnes and Kundera. In the subsequent contents, the 19th century story about German philosopher Goethe and his admirer Bettina suddenly chipped in. The story of Goethe appeared to be a kind of disturbance and irrelevance at first glance, but it migrated into Agnes’ story gradually and slowly. All the story lines finally interlinked with each other and readers should give a special note of appreciation on Kundera’s ability in orchestrating a novel from a wide and rich coverage. A good novel is some creative work standing between imagination and reality as well as traveling from the past to contemporary society. Kundera convincingly showed this idea was achievable. Paris
The core of reading Kundera’s books is to sense and think. They are highly philosophical. If you are attracted by the word ‘immortality’ and consider Kundera would give a dictionary explanation about such idea, you could be disappointed. But the obvious reality is that immortality only comes after death. Without death, immortality won’t emerge. Lovers would like to have their romance being immortal. Politicians would like to have their ideas being immortal. Scholars would like to have their researched knowledge being immortal. Unfortunately, the answers can’t be known unless the mortals become lifeless. Through the different living circles of Agnes, including her parents, sister, husband, child, job and aspiration, the inevitable deaths of individuals drop hints to what immortality really means. Immortality only springs from death and uniqueness. If one is determined to bring immortality to his or her life, the life shall mean something special and belong to the eternality, either passionately, politically or intellectually.
To me, Kundera wrote Immortality for the purposes of exploring the meaning of existence, which may be too heavy for the current generation. Kundera shared that the only way of leading to immortality is individuality. But now we focus too much on seeking common grounds, finding universal answers and identifying similarities in our daily lives. But sadly, these hamper the cultivation of individuality. Intellectuals can only have individualistic life, or otherwise their lives would become dull, unappealing and meaningless. Intellectuals without individuality are hopeless individuals indeed.
It is not a wastage for this Immortality standing bored in my bookshelf for about 20 years. It finally delivers to me its value. I must also admit only with the passage of time and accumulation of life experience, can the richness of Kundera’s write-ups be assimilated and comprehended. Goethe, Hemingway, Cervantes, Dostoyevsky as well as various gods and goddesses in Greek mythology have been remarkably and seamlessly integrated into the novel. A great deal of western culture is meaningfully embedded. Reading Kundera’s Immortality is more than reading a novel. It is a book of philosophy.
Papers can turn old but thoughts never decay. Hidden in my yellowish Immortality lays the genius I highly aspire.