Cover image for Ignorance
Kundera, Milan.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Ignorance. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [2002]

Physical Description:
195 pages ; 21 cm
Added Author:
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Central Library

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A man and a woman meet by chance while returning to their homeland, which they had abandoned twenty 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? The truth is that after such a long absence "their memories no longer match." We always believe that our memories coincide with those of the person we loved, that we experienced the same thing. But this is just an illusion. Then again, what can we expect of our weak memory? It records only "an insignificant, minuscule particle" of the past, "and no one knows why it's this bit and not any other bit." We live our lives sunk in a vast forgetting, a fact we refuse to recognize. Only those who return after twenty years, like Odysseus returning to his native Ithaca, can be dazzled and astounded by observing the goddess of ignorance firsthand.

Milan Kundera is the only author today who can take such dizzying concepts as absence, memory, forgetting, and ignorance, and transform them into material for a novel, masterfully orchestrating them into a polyphonic and moving work.

Author Notes

One of the foremost contemporary Czech writers, Kundera is a novelist, poet, and playwright. His play The Keeper of the Keys, produced in Czechoslovakia in 1962, has long been performed in a dozen countries. His first novel, The Joke (1967), is a biting satire on the political atmosphere in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. It tells the story of a young Communist whose life is ruined because of a minor indiscretion: writing a postcard to his girlfriend in which he mocks her political fervor.The Joke has been translated into a dozen languages and was made into a film, which Kundera wrote and directed. His novel Life Is Elsewhere won the 1973 Prix de Medicis for the best foreign novel. Kundera has been living in France since 1975. His books, for a long time suppressed in his native country, are once again published.The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), won him international fame and was a successful English-language film. In this work Kundera moves toward more universal and philosophically tinged themes, thus transforming himself from a political dissident into a writer of international significance.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Can we ever really go home? As in his previous work, particularly The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1981) and Laughable Loves (1974), Franco-Czech author Kundera uses the most basic human encounters to ask the largest questions about what is really shared between people, what links our former and present selves, how languages change who we are, and the meaning of nostalgia and homeland. After nearly 20 years in Paris and after the fall of Czech communism, Irena considers moving back to her native country and returns for a visit. In the airport, she meets Josef, also an immigrant, with whom she shared a single evening years ago in Prague. Irena remembers their initial meeting with detailed intensity and has always regretted its abrupt, chaste conclusion. Josef doesn't even recognize Irena, but he lies and a passionate climax follows. Using the brilliant framework of this and other confused affairs, Kundera explores the contorted nature of memory and an emigre's "great return," weaving in examples of Odysseus and the yearning of Holocaust survivors. Part intellectual postulating, part exquisite storytelling, Kundera's profound, unsettling, and expertly crafted novel examines the ultimate immigration--leaving behind what's inherited--and marvels at the power and impossibility of it. --Gillian Engberg

Publisher's Weekly Review

"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. (Oct. 4) Forecast: Kundera's succession of novels with one-word titles (Identity; Slowness; Immortality), all originally written in French, have drawn a more mixed reception from critics than his earlier novels written in Czech. This novel will probably be no exception-and will likely match the previous three in sales-but the consistency and quality of Kundera's output is matched by few contemporary writers. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Kundera's current language is French, but his sensibility remains in Prague, where this story is set. Former lovers return home to a newly liberated country and try to pick up the pieces. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.