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Ignorance: A Novel Paperback – September 30, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060002107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060002107
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"Would an Odyssey even be conceivable today? Is the epic of return pertinent to our own time? When Odysseus woke on Ithaca's shore that morning, could he have listened in ecstasy to the music of the Great Return if the old olive trees had been felled and he recognized nothing around him?" Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) continues to perfect his amalgam of Nietzschean aphorism and erotic tale-telling in this story of disappointing homecomings. The time is 1989 and the Communists have fallen in Prague. In the Paris airport, Irena, a Czech emigre, recognizes an ex-compatriot, Josef. More than 20 years ago, Josef almost seduced Irena in a Prague bar; the two chat and agree to meet again in Prague. Each is returning for a different reason. Irena, in 1968, fled the country with Martin, her husband, to escape the political pressure he was under. Martin is long dead, their children are grown and Irena is now being pressured to return to Prague by her Swedish lover, Gustaf, who has set up an office in the city. Josef, a veterinarian, also left the country after the Russian invasion, out of disgust. He is returning to the Czech Republic to fulfill a request from his recently deceased wife. Both discover new and annoying aspects of Prague (such as Kafka T-shirts) as well as old bitterness. When they meet, Josef neglects to tell Irena one fact: he doesn't really remember her. With elegant detachment and measured passion, Kundera once again shows himself the master of both the erudite and the carnal in this Mozartian interlude.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Milan Kundera, born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, was a student when the Czech Communist regime was established in 1948, and later worked as a labourer, jazz musician and professor at the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies in Prague. After the Russian invasion in August 1968, his books were proscribed. In 1975, he and his wife settled in France, and in 1981, he became a French citizen. He is the author of the novels The Joke, Life is Elsewhere, Farewell Waltz, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Immortality, and of the short-story collection Laughable Loves - all originally in Czech. His most recent novels, Slowness, Identity and Ignorance, as well as his non-fiction works The Art of the Novel and Testaments Betrayed, were originally written in French.

Customer Reviews

It seems too much in a much too convoluted sense.
Elena Barbulescu
They look for similarities, memories they can both reminisce together, even if they both share a different perception of what actually occurred.
Vivek Tejuja
If you are new to Kundera, this would certainly be an enjoyable book to read.
M. A Netzley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By "kachooney" on October 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In a historical sense, it would be easy to compare Kundera's latest novel with its two immediate predecessors, Slowness and Identity. All three were penned in French, unlike his earlier, bulkier, more popular works, originally in Czech. All three are relatively short, quick reads. All three are similarly named, taking as their one-word titles general characteristics (although this was not unheard of in his Czech works: Ignorance is a direct correlative, and titles like the Unbearable Lightness of Being, while multi-worded, are in the same vein). Having just finished Ignorance, however, I think that it rises far above Slowness and Identity.
Kundera, as a romancier français, has been criticized for poverty of language. His French prose, critics have argued, is not as sumptuous and free-flowing as his native Czech. Gallimard has yet to publish a version of the original French, so I haven't had a chance to examine it firsthand, but it we are to trust translator Linda Asher (who has also done translations of his last two works), it is safe to say that Kundera is mastering his French more and more with the passage of time. Ignorance's prose is perhaps not as thick as some of Kundera's best Czech work (Life is Elsewhere and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting come to mind for their superlatively natural flow from idea to idea and richness of speech), but it is certainly lucid and not perceptibly forced.
Thematically as well, Kundera has tightened himself with Ignorance. In his grandes oeuvres, it was easier to explore depths of character and numerous themes in great detail. In the shorter format that Kundera has opted for in his French writing, that kind of exposition is not possible.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I read this book at the recommendation of my father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in the 1960s. He told me that it expressed what he felt when he paid his old home a visit a few years ago. I appreciated the author's words regarding the returning Czech immigrants in the book. They return home to a country that is much changed from what they remember. At least one of them realizes that he's been missing a country that no longer exists. Even his native language has come to sound strange to his ears. The reactions of other people in the book were interesting too - no one in the home country asks their returning friends or relatives about their lives in their adopted countries. I remember that same kind of strange silence when I visited Hungary with my family. The author's words ring extremely true. This isn't the type of book I normally read and I appreciated learning from the author's point of view. I had trouble distinguishing between his characters, though. They are not fleshed out, and the plot is slight. It's a book more about the feelings and observations of an emigrant/immigrant. That's very valuable, but I suspect the audience for the work is small. I definitely recommend the book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By greg on October 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Kundera the master has returned at last in this gripping, concise, and moving account of a disastrous homecoming. Irena, back in Prague after years as an emigre in Paris, scarcely recognizes the city she once knew. She finds the pervasive kitsch of a burgeoning free market appalling. Meanwhile her partner, Gustaf, revels in Prague's awakening from the nightmare of communism and walks the lively streets convinced that he has finally found his city of dreams.
Irena's Great Return, connected in the novel to Odysseus's rapturous homecoming in the Odyssey, confirms the "emigration nightmares" she suffered from in Paris. Aggressively cheerful former friends, gathered to welcome her back, order beer instead of drinking the fine wine she has brought them. They seem to want to cut her off from her years in Paris, to amputate the life she had there, and to join the distant past with the present.
Though she resists this attempted amputation, she succumbs to the wish to revisit the past, in the form of a rendezvous with Josef, whom she flirted with briefly in a bar as a young woman. He has forgotten her, but he plays along treacherously, and their lopsided and brief affair culminates in an explosion of eroticism, followed by tears as Irena discovers that Josef means more to her than she to him.
Kundera brilliantly weaves the theme of ignorance into this short novel: our identities are dependent on memory, but memory is so pitifully fragile that the self is condemned to an unbearable lightness. Josef, faithful to the memory of his dead wife, abandons Irena with terrifying detachment. His act is all the more poignant because Kundera, with is customary dexterity, has juxtaposed this scene with a parallel betrayal.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. A Netzley on January 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I was skimming the Internet and came across a site that gave a perfect description of Kundera's latest novel: the book of "leaving" and forgetting. I thought this play on Kundera's previous masterpiece was appropriate. His latest novel deals with the many forms of forgetting that occur when people emigrate. I suspect this is a topic that Kundera knows well.
The primary characters are Irena and Josef. Both left Czechoslovakia after the communists took over and found new homes in Europe. Irena went to Paris while Josef selected Denmark. The characters meet in an airport lounge as they return to their homeland, and the ignorance begins. Kundera presents ignorance, a term he loosely connects with nostalgia in the early chapters, in its many forms. As the story unfolds, we see how the main characters have forgotten much of their old life, and have forgotten that life will also go on. Respectively, details from personal diaries cannot be recalled, and the desire to question old friends about old ideas are key points of ignorance. Their friends and family suffer from much of the same (except N, who seems to be the most wise despite how others view him). This seems especially true of those who are inspired by ill will such as Josef's sister in law. Kundera even addresses the age of ignorance when we simply do not know better. This form of ignorance is conveyed through the character Milada.
Along the way, we see many of the same techniques that Kundera has become famous for. In Ignorance, we find many comparisons to Odysseus, his life with Calypso, and eventual return home to Penelope. Familiar names such Thomas Mann, Jan Skacel, and Schoenberg make appearances. And as we would expect, Kundera weaves a tale of commentary, quotes, history, and the main narrative to make his point.
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