Tag-Archive for ◊ Ignorance ◊

Author:
• Friday, June 14th, 2013

Milan Kundera was born in 1929 in Brno, the Czech Republic, from a middle class family. His father was a musicologist and a pianist. Milan learned to play the piano from his father and later studied musicology and musical composition.

Kundera finished secondary school in 1948. He then studied literature and aesthetics at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague for two terms, before transferring to the Film Academy to learn film direction and script writing. He graduated in 1952 and worked as lecturer in world literature at the Film Academy.

He joined the communist party in 1948 like several intellectual Czechoslovaks of the time. He was expelled from the party two years later, for having “unorthodox inclinations”. However he rejoined the party again in 1956 and was discharged once more in the seventies.

Kundera’s works were banned and he was dismissed from his teaching job by the Czechoslovak communist regime after taking part in the short-lived liberalisation movement of 1967-1968.

In 1975 Kundera and his wife left Czechoslovakia for France, where he was appointed guest professor at the University of Rennes. He was stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship in 1979 and lived in exile in France, becoming a French citizen in 1981. Presently he lives with his wife in Paris.

He has written novels, a short story collection, a poetry collection, essays and drama. In 1985 he received the Jerusalem Prize and in 1987 won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. In 2000 he was awarded the international Herder Prize and in 2007 he won the Czech State Literature Prize. He was made an honorary citizen of his own home town, Brno, in 2010 and received the Ovid Prize in 2011.

“Nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return”, says the long exiled Kundera at the beginning of his philosophical novel Ignorance. This sentence sets the main themes of the book which are: emigration, nostalgia, the longing for homecoming and the indifference that follows once back home as well as the deliberation on recollection and about human fallibility, creating a state of amnesia and ignorance. These are topics understandably close to the author’s heart, emigration being a first-hand experience for him.

Pregnant Irena, her husband Martin and their young daughter, leave their homeland, Czechoslovakia in 1969, one year after the Russian invasion, to seek refuge in Paris.

After twenty years of exile, Irena is now a mother of two daughters and a widow. With her new Swedish companion Gustaf, they decide to go back and live in the post-communist Czech Republic.
At Paris airport, while waiting for the Prague flight, her path crosses Josef – a short time heart-throb from adolescent days. He is also by coincidence, returning to his country for a brief visit after his wife’s death and twenty years of exile in Denmark.

The two uprooted protagonists, once back home after a long absence, are disillusioned to find their past forever gone. They don’t know how to pick up the threads. They come back to a completely transformed country from the one they remember, which no longer exists except in their own memories. They feel estranged in their native land among their compatriots and their families with whom they no longer have anything in common. They suffer through loss of identity as well as solitude for not fitting in with others.

Irena and Josef’ feel that their families and friends ignore them, as well as showing no interest in their lives in exile during the past twenty years. Irena, once in Prague, invites her friends and offers them an expensive French 1985 vintage Bordeaux wine but her friends who wanted “to teach (her) a lesson in patriotism” ask to drink beer instead. Irena believes that “rejecting the wine was rejecting her. She, as the person she is now, coming back after so many years…Either she succeeds in being among them as the person she has become, or else she won’t stay” because with their aloofness and disinterest in all she has been through abroad, they are erasing twenty years of her life.

Irena, on reflection, decides that her once beloved Prague of the old days is now completely alien to her. That is when she realises with assertion that she is more mature and wants to lead a life of her own and not stay in this city as it stands now. Her apprehension for the “Great Return” to the post-communist Czech Republic, occurs at the beginning of the book during her conversation with Parisian friend, Sylvie, who encourages her to go back home and reconnect with her past. After a short visit to Prague, Irena’s presentiment is proven to be correct – she no longer belongs to this new country.

Josef also feels the same as Irena and decides to go back to Denmark to continue living true to the memory of his deceased beloved wife. He was convinced after the disappointing visit to his older brother and his wife, followed by the visit to N., a Czech friend from forty years ago. To his surprise and sorrow, he discovers that neither his friend N. nor his wife are interested in his life and experiences during all his long years abroad. Josef discovers that even his mother tongue has become unfamiliar to his ears, as if it was “some unknown language”. He wonders what happened to Czech during these last two decades while he was away.

Just like Odysseus when he came back home after being tortured by his nostalgia and was eager to return to his beloved Ithaca after his long absence. To his great astonishment and affliction, he discovers “that his life, the very essence of his life, its centre, its treasure, lay outside Ithaca, in the twenty years of his wanderings. And this treasure he had lost and could retrieve only by telling about it”.

The several themes meditated, philosophically analysed at length and historically paralleled with Odysseus in the Odyssey, plus the inclusion of the Czech poet Jan Skacel, the Austrian composer and painter Arnold Schoenberg and the German writer,Thomas Mann, override the development of the one dimensional characters in the book. Kundera mentioned once during an interview, that the “unity” of a book can depend on its theme rather than on its plot.

The double erotic scenes at the end of the novel – between Irena and Josef on one side and her mother with Gustaf on the other, don’t enhance the story. They are gaudy and anticlimactic. They belittle the seriousness of the matters raised in the book, despite what the author says in one of his interviews that:“the erotic scene is the focus where all the themes of the story converge and where its deepest secrets are located”.

A very emotional, short, concentrated and thought provoking book. It analyses human weaknesses and therefore problems that touch many people today. These problems are unlikely to change because they have been with us since the dawn of time. Throughout the centuries, people have been pushed to emigration and homecoming with all that it entails.

If you enjoyed reading this article or found it useful, please consider donating the cost of a cup of coffee to help maintain the site...
Author:
• Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Here is a list of the books we have read and reviewed and will be reviewing in the coming months at the UNWG Book Club:

2003
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Human Stain by Philipp Roth

2004
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Youth & The End Of The Tether by Joseph Conrad
English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
Samarkand by Amin Maalouf
Portrait In Sepia by Isabel Allende
Youth by John Coetzee

2005
Waiting by Ha Jin
Silk by Alessandro Baricco
Notes From The Hyena’s Belly by Nega Mezlekia
Crabwalk by Günter Grass
The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath
The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

2006
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Fear And Trembling by Amelie Nothomb
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Eve Green by Susan Fletcher
The Palace Tiger by Barbara Cleverly
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Buddha Of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer

2007
The Bookseller Of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Embers by Sandor Marai
Palace Of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz
Sugar Street by Naguib Mahfouz
I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti
One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In The Country Of Men by Hisham Matar
The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve

2008
Staying On by Paul Scott
The Swallows Of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra
The Cairo House by Samia Serageldin
Keeping The World Away by Margaret Forster
The Speed Of Light by Javier Cercas
The Lady On My Left by Catherine Cookson
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
An Old Fashioned Arrangement by Susie Vereker
Tears Of The Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

2009
The Miniaturist by Kunal Basu
Mothers And Sons by Colm Toibin
The Blood Of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
So Many Ways To Begin by Jon McGregor
The Agüero Sisters by Cristina Garcia
The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks
Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adiche
That Summer In Paris by Abha Dawesar
The Island by Victoria Hislop

2010
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw
Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Mission Song by John le Carré
The Conjuror’s Bird by Martin Davies
The Sea by John Banville
The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
26a by Diana Evans
The Road Home by Rose Tremain

2011
Desert by Le Clézio
Any Place I Hang My Hat by Susan Isaacs
Rules of The Wild by Francesca Marciano
My Name is Salma by Fadia Faqir
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Nadirs by Herta Müller
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa El Aswany
Crow Stone by Jenni Mills

2012
The Other Hand (UK print) or Little Bee (USA print) by Chris Cleave. (Two different titles for the same novel depending on where you buy it).
The Siege by Ismail Kadare.
The Loner by Josephine Cox.
Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann.
Okei by Mitsugu Saotome.
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett / La couleur des sentiments / Gute Geister.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga / Le tigre blanc / Der Weisse Tiger.
My Father’s Notebook by Kader Abdolah / Cunéiforme / Die Geheime Schrift.

2013
The Last Station by Jay Parini / Une année dans la vie de Tolstoi / Tolstojs Letztes Jahr.
The Invisible City by Emili Rosales / La ville invisible / Tiepolo und die Unsichtbare Stadt.
No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod / La perte et le fracas.
Illuminations by Eva Hoffman.
Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher / Oasis du couchant / Sonnenuntergangs Oase.
Ignorance by Milan Kundera / L’ignorance / Die Unwissenheit.
Light of the Moon by Luanne Rice.
Softcore by Tirdad Zolghadr.
The Musician’s Daughter by Susanne Dunlap.

2014
Honour by Elif Shafak / Crime D’honneur.
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes / Des fleurs pour Algernon.
Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye / Trois femmes puissantes.
Firmin by Sam Savage.
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle / Embrouille en Provence.
The Year Of The Hare by Arto Paasilinna / Le lièvre de Vatanen.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain / Madame Hemingway.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen / Amours et autres enchantements.
The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh / Lignes d’ombres.

2015
The Map Of Love by Ahdaf Soueif / Lady Pacha.
The Secret History Of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez / Histoire secrète du Costaguana.
Night Train To Lisbon by Pascal Mercier / Train de nuit pour Lisbonne.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell / Cette main qui a pris la mienne.
The Way To Paradise by Mario Vargas Liosa / Le Paradis-un peu plus loin.
The Sweetest Dream by Doris Lessing / Le rêve le plus doux de Doris Lessing.
The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker / Le détour de Gerbrand Bakker.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson / La dernière conquête du major Pettigrew de Helen Simonson.

2016
Coastliners by Joanne Harris / Voleurs de plage.
The Rock Of Tanios by Amin Maalouf / Le rocher de Tanios.
The Heart Of A Dog by Mikhail Boulgakov / Coeur de chien.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin / La saison des mangues introuvables.
The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes / Une fille, qui danse.
Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie / Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise.
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi / Le ravissement des innocents.
Accabadora by Michela Murgia.
Hanna’s Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson / Hanna et ses filles.

2017
Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell / Epouser Mozart: Le roman des soeurs.
Please Look After Mother by Shin Kyung-Sook / Prends soin de maman.
Kartography by Kamila Shamsie / Kartographie.
All The Names by José Saramago / Tous les noms.
In The Skin Of A Lion by Michael Ondaatje / La peau d’un lion.
Moderato Cantabile by Marguerite Duras.
Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson / Dans les coulisses du musée.
The Little Paris Bookshop By Nina George / La lettre oubliée.
The Masterpiece by Anna Enquist / Le chef-d’oeuvre.

2018
The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke.
How It All Began by Penelope Lively.
The Heart Has Its Reasons by Maria Duenas / Demain à Santa Cecilia.
The Violinist Of Venice by Alyssa Palombo.
The Woman On The Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford.
The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami / Les années douces.
The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson / L’analphabète qui savait compter.
A Piece Of The World by Christina Baker Kline.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan / Le club de la chance.

2019
Luncheon Of The Boating Party By Susan Vreeland.
Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land. / Le sang du monstre.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles / Un gentleman à Moscou.
When The Future Comes Too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke.
Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese.
A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman / La vie selon Ove.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey / La fille de l’hiver.
The Last Song Of Dusk by Siddarth Dhanvant Shanghvi / La fille qui marchait sur l’eau.
Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf / Léon l’Africain.

2020
The Library Of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard / La librairie des ombres.
The Memory Shop by Ella Griffin / La boutique des petits trésors.
The Master Of The Prado by Javier Sierra / Le maître du Prado.
The Good Husband Of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith / Les larmes de la girafe.
The Bondmaid by Catherine Lim / La maîtresse de jade.
Ties by Domenico Starnone / Les liens.

2021
Together Tea by Marjan Kamali.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami / La ballade de l’impossible de Haruki Murakami.
The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami / La brocante Nakano.
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck / La terre chinoise de Pearl S. Buck.
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell / Hamnet de Maggie O’Farrell.
Pavilion Of Women by Pearl S. Buck / Pavillon des femmes de Pearl S. Buck.

2022
Slowness by Milan Kundera / La Lenteur de Milan Kundera.
Love In Exile by Ayse Kulin.
The Secret Life Of Book Club by Heather Woodhaven.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith / De la beauté de Zadie Smith.
The Little French Bistro by Nina George.
The Palace Of Dreams by Ismail Kadare / Le palais des rêves de Ismail Kadare.
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones.
The Enchantress by Han Suiyn.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

 

Category:  | Leave a Comment