It’s been years since I’ve read a Milan Kundera novel and I have read all of them up until The Unbearable Lightness Of Being. I have some catching up to do, being that he’s published 4 since then. Delving into Ignorance was a sheer joy and it reminded me why Kundera had always been one of my favorite authors.
Ignorance is a short novel but within this slim volume is what Kundera always delivers best: his unique blend of fiction, essay and history. A modern retelling of The Odyssey, is about two Czech expatriates - Irene and Josef - who once had a brief encounter while in their twenties. Since then, both had fled their native land to live in exile - Irene to France, Josef to Denmark. After the fall of Communism the two decide to return to their homeland after a twenty year absence. They meet by chance at a Parisian airport and agree to meet one another during their short stay in Prague. The novel then follows their individual lives - both past and present - and how each of their memories of one another don’t match, which naturally will lead to an explosive conclusion.
As simple as the plot of the novel is, it should be read more for the idea “The Great Return” after being away from one’s homeland for so long. It raises existential questions about identity, the nature of exile, nostalgia, and whether or not one can truly ever “return” at all. It is also about the history of post-war Europe and the effect it had on the main character’s individual lives - exploring notions of patriotism, freedom and national identity.
Kundera is the kind of novelist who will always make the reader think and this novel is no different. It is vintage Kundera and those who already admire him will absolutely love this book. For those who have never read him, this would be a great one to become acquainted with his writing. Highly recommended.