Summary and book reviews of Ignorance by Milan Kundera

Ignorance

by Milan Kundera

Ignorance
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2002, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2003, 208 pages

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Book Summary

"Kundera is so bounteously gifted with insight that even a slender story like that of Ignorance is edifying, filled with intellectual surprises and flashes of the imagination."

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.

Translated by Linda Asher.

Chapter One


"What are you still doing here?" Her tone wasn't harsh, but it wasn't kindly, either; Sylvie was indignant.

"Where should I be?" Irena asked.

"Home!"

"You mean this isn't my home anymore?"

Of course she wasn't trying to drive Irena out of France or implying that she was an undesirable alien: "You know what I mean!"

"Yes, I do know, but aren't you forgetting that I've got my work here? My apartment? My children?"

"Look, I know Gustaf. He'll do anything to help you get back to your own country. And your daughters, let's not kid ourselves! They've already got their own lives. Good Lord, Irena, it's so fascinating, what's going on in your country! In a situation like that, things always work out."

"But Sylvie! It's not just a matter of practical things, the job, the apartment. I've been living here for twenty years now. My life is here!"

"Your people have a revolution going on!"

Sylvie ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
The collapse of the communist regimes of Eastern Europe in 1989 put an end not only to an ideology but to a perennial European character, the Émigré. After decades of being pitied as the Great Victim or despised as the Great Traitor [p. 30], he (or she) was now free to go back home, perhaps even morally obliged to do so. But what is home? Is it merely a place or something more tenuous and less easily attainable? And can someone who's spent half a life in the grip of nostalgia -- "the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return" [p. 5] -- emerge from it so easily? These are among the questions that Milan Kundera poses in Ignorance, a novel whose remarkably brief span encompasses two centuries of ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle

Haunting … cascading philosophical, historical and erotic mediations …[and] thunderclaps of insight, absurd metaphors and characters who haplessly misunderstand one another collide in his hypnotically repetitive and bitingly humorous prose.

Los Angeles Times Book Review

Literary excellence … [Kundera's] irony and wit are …on target, his characters vivid and convincing.

Los Angeles Times Book Review

By far his most successful [novel] since The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Washington Post Book World

Kundera once more delivers a seductive, intelligent entertainment … [with] elegance and grace.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

An entertaining and thought-provoking work

Rocky Mountain News

Kundera is and elegant writer … He does a masterful job of reminding that the political is the personal.

Philadelphia Inquirer

A voice still masterful in its antennae for 'the human condition' … for Milan Kundera, life is plainly elsewhere and where it has always been in the eye of its fiercely intelligent, endlessly ruminative beholder.

Newark Star Ledger

[A] beautifully written tale of desire and loss.

Oregonian

Kundera is so bounteously gifted with insight that even a slender story like that of Ignorance is edifying, filled with intellectual surprises and flashes of the imagination.

Maureen Howard, New York Times Book Review

Erudite and playful...An impassioned account of the émigré as a character on the stage of European history.

New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

Milan's Kundera's resonant new novel Ignorance ….[is] wonderfully nuanced …. affecting.

Newsweek

His language in this slim but elegant volume is nothing short of masterful.

Boston Globe

Moving … There is a painful injustice and inequality to memory, which these encounters beautifully illustrate.

Time Out New York

Elegant … the emotional and intellectual payoff is extraordinary.

Kirkus Reviews

An honorable failure. Kundera's taking himself too seriously is offset by his ability to change the subject again and again-though, at end, nothing adds up to much.

Library Journal

Rendered with compassion and humor.

Library Journal

Though slightly thicker than Kundera's previous French offerings and hinting at the pre-Slowness fiction that won him a rabid following, Ignorance suffers from a seemingly hurried narrative whose end may produce in some fans a nostalgia for Kundera at his deepest and most playful.

Booklist - Gillian Engberg

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With elegant detachment and measured passion, Kundera once again shows himself the master of both the erudite and the carnal in this Mozartain interlude.

Reader Reviews

april

I hope my grandmother can find one of Milan Kundera's book in the US. She'll like this book too!

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