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Ignorance by Milan Kundera
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Ignorance (2000)

by Milan Kundera

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English (19)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (27)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
This novel left me as awakward as its charatcers appear in their repatriation. My wife and her sister had raved about it, relating closed parenthesis of the exile is impossible to truly disable either abroad or back at home. I felt choked with empathy. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
When Odysseus returned to Ithaka after twenty years of travel and travail he was welcomed home; but was his return to the place he remembered and to the wife that he remembered? With Ignorance Milan Kundera gives the reader a meditation on this theme and others. Ignorance raises the question of where home is anymore in the modern world, not only for émigrés but for anyone who moves around. The place of one’s birth no longer seems to qualify, as one grows away from it, moves to more attractive places, or becomes cosmopolitan in tastes. For people in and from formerly communist countries, sudden opportunities to travel and migrate, after decades of restricted opportunities, seem to have raised the question afresh.

Irena, the novel’s main character, who lives in Paris, has enjoyed the status of émigré for two decades: Parisians feel sorry for the poor Czech woman and after the fall of Czech communism in 1989, they begin to wonder why she is not hurrying back home to help out. Her Parisian friends seem to consider it her patriotic duty. Yet Irena has worked hard to become settled in Paris, where she buried her Czech husband and raised their two daughters, who for all practical matters are French. Now Irena has a job, an apartment, and a boyfriend in Paris, not a bad city in which to make one’s home. Only a visit from her mother, who still lives in Prague, persuades Irena to make a return visit to the city of her birth.

Josef, the novel’s other main character, likewise fled Czechoslovakia in 1969. He settled in Denmark, where he married a Danish woman, and they lived happily together until she died. Josef, still mourning her death and attached to their home in Denmark, where he keeps everything just as it was when she was alive, is also very slow to return to the land of his birth. Now he is returning for a visit only because he had promised his dying wife that he would.

On their way to Czechoslovakia, Irena and Josef meet by chance in the Paris airport. Irena remembers Josef from another chance encounter many years before in Prague, before she married. There had been some chemistry between the two, but after their meeting they had never seen each other again: “Their love story stopped before it could start.” Now Irena introduces herself again, and they agree to get together in Prague. Actually, Josef cannot remember her, but now he sees no reason to turn down an opportunity for friendship with a warm, good-looking woman.

Before they rendezvous in Prague, they both have certain rounds to make and this is where Kundera begins to raise doubts about the idea of the Great Return. Both Irena and Josef are struck by the strangeness of the spoken Czech language, which seems to have developed an ugly nasal drawl since their departure. They also both notice the hometown diminution effect: Landscapes and city scenes that once seemed impressive have shrunk into insignificance, if they have not disappeared altogether. Worst of all, the whole country has been inundated by tasteless popular culture and crass commercialism; for example, the music on the radio is described as “noise” and “sewage-water music,” and the tubercular face of writer Franz Kafka adorns a T-shirt for tourists.

Both Irena and Josef get a glimpse of what they might have become if they had stayed in Czechoslovakia. When the weather turns hot, Irena buys a dowdy Czech dress that makes her look “naïve, provincial, inelegant” and “pitiable, poor, weak, downtrodden.” In his high school diary that his brother had saved for him, Josef is able to contemplate the “little snot” he used to be, back in the days of his virginity, when he obsessed about girls but could express his feelings only by torturing his girlfriends emotionally. Both Irena and Josef also get an eyeful of their potential selves in the friends and relatives that they meet, who form a kind of gauntlet for the two visitors but who otherwise have not missed them for twenty years.

Irena tries to socialize with some Prague friends, but after an awkward moment, her friends declare their “plain-and-simple” preference for beer rather than the wine she offers them. Then, beer in hand, they stand around chatting to each other about local matters, pretty much ignoring Irena. They are totally uninterested in what she has been doing during the twenty years she was away. Irena realizes that they have “amputated twenty years from her life” and no longer have much in common with her. She already misses her Parisian friend Sylvie.

In the provincial hometown that he visits, Josef has to run an even worse gauntlet formed by his sister-in-law, his Czech former wife (to whom he was married for only a few months), and his stepdaughter. Josef’s brother is happy enough to see him again, though the brother is somewhat embarrassed because he has taken over the family home and Josef’s old belongings. Although she also enjoys his goods, Josef’s sister-in-law has not forgiven him for running off and causing them to suffer under the Communist regime. Worse, she calls up his former wife and tells her he is in town. Then his stepdaughter calls him to say she has to see him right away to discuss certain important matters that she cannot talk about on the phone, but when he calls back to break their appointment, the stepdaughter says her mother warned her about what “a filthy little egotist” he is.

By the time Irena and Josef meet in Prague, they are ready for some relief and consolation. They share each other’s stories over lunch and wine, then head up to his hotel room. Before long, they are making love, but it does not end well and he leaves to catch his plane back to Denmark.

Thus, the ending of the novel is immensely sad. For both Irena and Josef, the Great Return to their homeland fizzles out and so does their brief romance. Even though Josef realizes that Irena is in love with him, he is still emotionally committed to his dead wife. Irena and Josef have crossed paths again, but again their paths do not match. Another possibility, however, is that Irena will find the encounter with Josef liberating. Until this encounter, Irena has tended to be dependent in her relationships with other people—first with her mother, then with her husband, Martin, and even with her married boyfriend, Gustaf.

Throughout the novel, Kundera also draws parallels to and meditates on the ur-myth of the Great Return—the story of Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.), which is at the center of Ignorance just as the story of Oedipus’s sense of moral responsibility is at the center of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Here Kundera seems to draw on the myth of Odysseus’s return primarily to show that it no longer applies to the modern world but is a romantic hangover from another time. For Odysseus, the return had tremendous validity, as he struggled to get back to his beloved homeland and wife. Around the time of the Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who wrote a stirring poem about Odysseus’s restlessness after his return, the myth started going downhill. Now the myth seems totally meaningless.

Where is home anymore? Where is love? In Ignorance Kundera seems to say that in the modern world neither of these is easy to find. Kundera destroys the idea that the place of one’s birth has any special significance. Instead, life is full of possibilities. Home and love are out there somewhere, but they have to be compatible with one’s identity, which in the modern world is a shifting, developing concept, dependent not just on one’s origins but on one’s experiences, memories, ideals, and ignorance. ( )
  jwhenderson | Oct 31, 2018 |
A brilliant book by Milan Kundera as usual, my only problem with it is that it has the exact same setup, environment and almost characters of "The unbearable lightness if being". It almost felt like a new part in the same book ( )
  MohammedMamdouhKamel | May 27, 2016 |
A meditation on home and memory from a European emigre.
  otterley | Aug 7, 2015 |
Kundera est superbe comme d'habitude. Le même esprit philosophique et moqueur que j'aime. C'est une belle histoire de nostalgie, de la nature humaine, de la recherche d'amour, de la question de la patrie.
J'ai envie de lire un autre Kundera aussitôt :)

--------------------------------------------------​


I have read this book in its original version, ' L'Ignorance ' , during October 2012.



Like the other Kundera books that I've read in the past, 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' and 'Immortality', this book takes on a philosophical tone, while scratching at the surface of some human relationships. The atmosphere reigning the 236 pages of this book is the Nostalgia:

“The Greek word for "return" is nostos. Algos means "suffering." So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”

It is a nostalgia of two Czech immigrants, Irena and Josef. They're not the characters to fall in love with, and the other characters are the same: they're shallow, egocentric people who do not share any affectionate bond with those around them.Their return to their homeland after the communist regime was overthrown wasn't a nice return. they couldn't relate to the people there. You can see how when they left, they left behind them a mess of malfunctioning relationships, with family members and friends. When they return, these complications accentuate even more. Yet, both main characters reconcile with their past after a wicked turn of events, and in an emotional way. I find them quite cold, nonetheless.

Kundera is certainly throwing some autobiographical content into this novel. He, too, like Irena, had to leave and went to France, and now identifies himself as French (He's a French citizen). He had political problems with the communist regime, and the Czech passport was taken away from him. Now, he visits the Czech Republic in incognito, like a stranger. That's how Irena and Josef felt: strangers in their hometown. So, I am sure Kundera KNOWS what he's talking about in this book, this is a topic that is rooted in his very experience, and he translated it into this novel. That fact makes me appreciate the novel even more.

I do not wish to spoil the book for those who haven't read it. So, I will refrain myself from discussing the story's plot. It isn't a typical plot, it reads more like a journal. It is about the journey that the characters are on. It's a delightful page-turner read. He questions the notion of patriotism, love, nostalgia, and intimacy in a pop-philosophical satirical tone.

I give this book 4 stars out of 5. It is a lovely little book, and I am eager to read other Kundera books :) ( )
  pathogenik | Mar 2, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Milan Kunderaprimary authorall editionscalculated
De Haan, MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"What are you still doing here?" Her tone wasn't harsh, but it wasn't kindly, either; Sylvie was indignant.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060002107, Paperback)

Bypassing the question of whether you can ever go home again, Milan Kundera's Ignorance tackles instead what happens when you actually get there. Ignorance is the story of two Czechs who meet by chance while traveling back to their homeland after 20 years in exile. Irena, who fled the country in 1968 with her now-deceased husband Martin, returns to Prague only to find coldness and indifference on the part of her former friends. Josef, who emigrated after the Russian invasion, is back in Prague to fulfill a wish of his beloved late wife. As fate would have it, the two have met before in their former lives, and the before-skirted passionate encounter is now destined to transpire. However, as in the story of Odysseus, which this novel so deliberately parallels, every homecoming brings with it a conflicting set of emotions so powerful that one has to question whether the voyage is really worth the pain. Expertly tackling the philosophical and emotional themes of nostalgia, memory, love, loss, and endurance, Kundera continues to astound readers with his masterful ability to understand and articulate issues so central to the human condition. --Gisele Toueg

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:36 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A man and a woman meet by chance while returning to their homeland, which they had abandoned 20 years earlier when they chose to become exiles. Will they manage to pick up the thread of their strange love story, interrupted almost as soon as it began and then lost in the tides of history?… (more)

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