Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Ignorance: A Novel Hardcover – October 1, 2002
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Silent Corner" by Dean Koontz
A dazzling new series, a pure adrenaline rush, debuts with Jane Hawk, a remarkable heroine certain to become an icon of suspense. See more
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
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
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.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
At some points his characters seem childishly egocentric, unaware of the irony of their constant lament, “No-one will listen to me. No one is really interested in what I have to say,” as they, themselves, show not a shred of interest in anyone else. This is particularly applied to the returning Czech émigrés:
The worst thing is, [the locals who had not emigrated] kept talking to me about things and people I knew nothing about. They refused to see that after all this time, their world has evaporated from my head. They thought with all my memory blanks I was trying to make myself interesting. To stand out. It was a very strange conversation: I’d forgotten who they had been; they weren’t interested in who I’d become. Can you believe that not one person here has ever asked me a single question about my life abroad? Not one single question! Never!
Where Kundera goes, perhaps, beyond this is in presenting this as a human condition thing. In response Irena’s complaint about the indifference of her erstwhile compatriots, fellow émigré Josef asks of her adopted country:
“And what about in France? Do your friends there ask you any questions?”
She is about to say yes, but then she thinks again; she wants to be precise, and she speaks slowly: “No, of course not! But when people spend a lot of time together, they assume they know each other. They don’t ask themselves any questions and they don’t worry about it. They’re not interested in each other, but it’s completely innocent. They don’t realise it.”
OK, sure, there’s stuff to mull over here (and Kundera is a definitive writer for mulling things over). Moreover he bolsters his case with suggestions that we can’t really interact – our perceptions and, particularly, our memories - even of the same events - are so unavoidably disparate. This particular issue is recurring for him – or, at least, there are real shades of it in this line from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:
The invention of printing originally promoted mutual understanding. In the era of graphomania, the writing of books has the opposite effect: everyone surrounds himself with his own writings as with a wall of mirrors cutting off all voices from without.
But, perhaps, blind projection – look at that wonderful generalisation of ‘everyone’. How far is Kundera presuming his experience – honestly and articulately expressed – is uniform? Take just the example from this extract: when people return or arrive from other countries, even other cities, in my experience it’s enormously common to hear them plastered (or, if it’s you, to be plastered) with questions about the experience, even to the point of the visitor getting tired of responding to similar questions. Sure some are just enquiring at a shallow, etiquette level, but many are genuinely interested in detail. I could be completely wrong – Kundera’s friends would know – but from this book I wouldn’t be surprised if much of these thoughts come from his own experience as an émigré, and that he wasn’t that interested in the experience of those who stayed, and was surprised at how little interest was shown in him. Many readers would be able to relate to this, but I don’t know how much of this is more about personality than humanity.
Other elements that make this sound more profound than whiny are: his assured prose style; educated description of subtleties of how different languages deal with the term ‘nostalgia’; and the classical motif of Odysseus. But I think this sort of thing is intellectually neutral, and, in itself, shows more about class than insight (cf. Fry’s The Liar). And even though he must have been in his seventies, he still had his trademark adultery (cf. Lodge) – also seen as European sophistication in an SBS sort of way. It doesn’t rule the whole book – it’s more of a coda – but I just don’t get how casually it’s viewed – like someone deciding to try out a new hairstyle or something. I did, however, relate to Joseph’s cringing at reading his old diaries, and Kundera is highly adept at evoking specific resonances like this. If you read him it might be something else, but it will probably leap off the page at you. That being said, overall this was a pretty meandering book – probably just as well it was more of a novella than a novel.
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. He moves and quotes much like a jazz musician.
At first I wondered if I would be disappointed by the same old literary techniques Kundera has been using for years. Let me answer my own concerns with a firm "no!" This is Kundera's best work in years and I enjoyed this book far more than I enjoyed Slowness or Identity. As always, Kundera makes us think. I found the narrative much more inviting than in his last two books, and the characters were much easier to connect with. I also appreciated the fact that there were no highly unusual sexual descriptions. I must admit, I was starting to worry about my favorite author after reading Slowness.
If you are a Kundera fan, then I certainly encourage you to read what I think is his best work since Immortality. If you are new to Kundera, this would certainly be an enjoyable book to read. Though not on par with Immortality, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, or Life is Elsewhere, it is an excellent work and I am very glad I took the time to read it immediately. I hope you enjoy it too.