Milan Kundera's sixth novel begins with a casual, elegant gesture of a woman to her swimming instructor, a gesture that creates a character — Agnes — in the mind of a writer named Kundera. A novel in seven parts, Immortality alternates the stories of Agnes, her husband Paul, and her sister Laura with a curious historical footnote, the story of the relationship between Goethe and Bettina von Arnim. The novel portrays Goethe and Ernest Hemingway conversing in the afterlife, and the narrator (named Kundera) carrying on an important philosophical discussion with the clear-eyed Professor Avenarius.
Through his characters, Kundera reflects on modem life and Western society and culture, exploring the cult of sentimentality, the difference between the individual self and the individual's public image, the conflict between reality and appearance, the varieties of love and sexual desire, the importance of fame and celebrity, and the whole too human longing for immortality. Each of Kundera's characters searches for a way to ensure their survival in the memory of others and, if necessary, at the expense of someone else's immortality.
Like Flaubert's Emma and Tolstoy's Anna, Kundera's Agnes herself becomes an object of fascination, of indefinable longing. From a single gesture springs a character and a novel, themselves gestures of the imagination that both embody and articulate Kundera's supreme mastery of the novel and its purpose: to thoroughly explore the great themes of existence.