Book #52: Ignorance

Milan Kundera is a pretty cool guy. From what I’ve read of him so far (Ignorance and The Unbearable Lightness of Being), his stories are the perfect blend of plot and philosophical musings. I want to put him in the same category as Paolo Coelho.

In Ignorance, Kundera deals with a lot of things that are particularly close to my heart right now. The book really captures what it is to be an expat. It deals with memory, our sense of home and where we belong, how our memories match up with those of other people, and how (and why…or if) we miss the places we come from.

The plot, basically, is about two people who return to Prague after the emigrated when Czechoslovakia became communist. After the Velvet Revolution, both came back to see their families, after several decades of living abroad.

What the main characters find is that they can no longer relate to the people they left behind. Irena, the female lead of the story, returns to Prague for a visit, only to find that after 20 years apart, her friends want nothing to do with the “new” her. They’d rather, as she describes it, “amputate” the 20 years she was gone and try to pick up where they left off, rather than ask her about her time in France and try to get to know the person she’s become.

I certainly can’t relate to being a refugee forced to leave my native country. I can’t even relate to being gone from my country for 20 years – hell, I haven’t even been gone a year! But I found myself nodding a lot and relating to Irena and Josef (male lead, by the way). I haven’t yet returned home after a super lengthy absence, but I’m sure it’s going to be a weird experience when I go back to the States at Christmas. My friends will have had a year of adult life under their belts. I’ll have a year of living abroad and avoiding starting any sort of permanent, non-peripatetic life. It will be weird. There will be a disconnect of sorts. And we’ll all have to figure out how to get around this.

I think because of this, for me, Ignorance was more about what happens when you try to go home after a long absence and the way you remember and try to reconnect with the people and places you loved and left than it was about memory itself. So it goes.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Drop City

All right! I’m “back.” I promise I’ll try to be better about updating.


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