After my previous few reviews, you will be forgiven for thinking that I don’t allow myself to get immersed in books. I struggled to appreciate the works of Huxley and Wells but this was certainly not the case when it came to Kundera’s Ignorance. In fact, I had to slow myself down so as to avoid reading the whole book in one evening.
This isn’t the first work of his I’ve read. I first fell in love with Kundera’s work after reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being a few years ago and since then I’ve read as much of his work as possible and, without a doubt, he is my favourite author. Explaining my love and fascination with Kundera is difficult. I don’t become immersed in the story, rather the story feels like it envelops me and my life. I remember reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being and feeling genuinely devastated that it ended. I was so engrossed in the book that I couldn’t think further beyond it and I felt a part of that world. After the fate of one of the characters, I was betrayed and enthralled.
For me, Kundera is less about the plot, the characters, or even the story in some ways. It’s about an overwhelming sense of emotions and familiarity. Kundera has a way of expressing himself that is tangible and accessible. It’s historic yet grounded in the present.
Ignorance is a relatively simple novel as far as Kundera goes. It lacks the surrealism and self-reflection of Immortality or The Book of Laughter and Forgetting but it certainly doesn’t lack the depth. Ignorance follows the story of two Czechoslovakian émigrés who return to their country after twenty years abroad. It follows their struggles as Josef and Irena try to reconcile the memory of their homeland with reality. Throughout their journeys, both characters experience ignorance in two forms: the willful ignorance people have about the experiences of émigrés, and their own ignorance. This topic is far from new and Kundera recognises this, comparing the plights and experiences of his own characters with the experience Odysseus had upon returning to Ithaca after the Trojan War (a journey home which also took roughly 20 years). This story is all the more tragic when one remembers that this experience and its portrayal was real for Kundera who was an exile himself and who as a naturalised Frenchman has struggled with his own “Great Return”.
Ignorance is not my favourite work by Kundera. Perhaps because my only experience vaguely comparable to exile is when I moved from the Fens to Wales… But Ignorance does remind me yet again why Kundera remains my favourite author and an unknown friend. It is a story that’s all too relevant today albeit told from a different part of the world. If you’ve yet to enjoy Kundera’s work, I would strongly recommend it.