Ignorance is a novel written in 1999 by Milan Kundera in French and released in 2000. However, in 2002, Linda Asher translated the first edition into English, a translation distributed by HarperCollins Publishers in New York around the same time (Kundera and Linda 24). The novel discusses the differences in the theme of homeland longing and the paradox of homecoming Odyssean. Just like other Kundera’s fiction works, the book communicates a deeper concern, especially with respect to memory and forgetfulness. For example, if it contributes something substantive to the context of the text; adds a basic theme; its importance, relevance, and value to the rest of the narrative; and lastly whether it is troubling or ambiguous in a way. The novel has several compelling and exciting paragraphs that substantially add to the meaning of the novel as a whole.
In the same respect, this review focuses on an extract of a paragraph on page 45 of the novel as shown below.
‘Twenty years of my life spent abroad would go up in smoke, in a sacrificial ceremony. And the women would sing and dance with me around the fire, with beer mugs raised high in their hands. That’s the price I’d have to pay to be pardoned. To be Accepted (Kundera and Linda 45).’
The fictional love story involves a woman, Irena, a Czech immigrant who is living in France. She decides to embark on a ‘Great Return’ to Prague to pay her old friends a visit after the fall of communism (Kundera and Linda 47). Upon her arrival at the airport, she bumps into Josef, her old acquaintance, and with whom she sought to have an affair 20 years ago. They both agree to hook up in Prague. Nevertheless, Josef does not recall any information about Irena. Surprisingly, Irena realizes that her friends are not interested in her Paris’ life experiences. When both finally meet, they find themselves spending together in bed, and after making love, Irena discovers that Josef does not even identify her by name (Kundera and Linda 46). Essentially, the novel deals with memory and forgetting tendency that explains how two people can share similar experiences and years later end up remembering completely different life events. Moreover, it reflects on the experience of emigrants and the inherent nostalgia they are likely to feel as they make efforts to return to their homelands after an extended period abroad.
From the paragraph, it can be deduced that Irena still finds herself in a dilemma of adopting her home traditions and sticking to the ways of life of French people that she has lived for the last 20 years. From her voice, you can read a reflection of regret because back in her homeland, her people do not recognize French culture and are fully engulfed in Czech culture – “The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return” (Kundera and Linda 65). She describes how women were singing and dancing around the fire while raising beer mugs. The only way she would seek acceptance and pardon from the community members was through forgetting the Paris life and living the Czech way. Most probably, Irena would not have undergone such an experience had she not gone to France. The rationale is that while she fled the wrath of communism, her friends and some family members remained in Czech and as such, the great reunion comes with not only happiness but also with regrets because she has to forget about her past.
The paragraph shows how decisions that people make while still, teenagers have a significant impact on the direction of their future lives. In other words, the determinations that we make today will most likely influence our lives positively or negatively shortly. For instance, as teenagers, Irena thought that she made the best decision ever to go to Paris (Kundera and Linda 63). Later on, she realizes that she must have made a mistake when Irena finds herself off traditions and seems to have gotten used to French ways of doing things as opposed to her culture of which she is ignorant.
Irena does not appear to appreciate Czech culture and she is more of French than a Czech. Imagine Irena would have retained her cultural aspects while living in Paris for all that time. Most probably, she would not have found it difficult joining her people after 20 years abroad. Her people back home are not interested in her experience while in France and show no single attempt even to know anything about her past (Kundera and Linda 45). On the contrary, she values her past so much and would love to preserve it, but in vain. Irena desires to go back to her home country, but her worry is the implication of such a decision. Going back home would mean that she would have to sacrifice all her experience and life at Paris at the altar of her homeland and extinguish it forever.
The extract is significant to the overall narrative of the novel and its overall theme. Another perspective of the paragraph reveals that even though Irena is yearning to live with her people, she finds it tough to actualize that dream because of the clash between homecoming expectations as well as homeland nostalgia. Apparently, she would not have faced a situation had she not ignorant of her Czech culture (Kundera and Linda 53). Irena would have loved it and felt comfortable living according to the traditions of her people. Irena is torn between a rock and hard surface in the sense that while her desire is to reunite with her childhood friends, they are not interested in knowing what she considers precious, her life experience in Paris. Most of her friends seem to be interested in is her being available for them.
While the people in her homeland organized a welcoming ceremony to welcome Irena back to the society, she perceives the tradition as sacrificial. All these are a product of cultural ignorance on her part coupled with her uneasiness with their approach (Kundera and Linda 43). What is troubling is how Irena carried herself throughout the ceremony because it is obvious it did not impress her. However, the focus here is not the manner in which the service was conducted but rather its implications. The extract reveals various aspects of ignorance and more about the perceptions of the primary characters regarding their interactions with their new environment.
Kundera, Milan, and Linda Asher. Ignorance. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002. Print.