In Milan Kundera's new novel, Ignorance, two Czech Å½migrÅ½s have been talked into returning to the country of their birth after having been away for 20 years. They will soon discover how much things have changed in their absence and learn that who they have become doesn't matter much to their former countrymen.
The Å½migrÅ½s, Irena and Josef, are both middle-aged and have lost spouses. They meet by chance in a Paris airport and promise to reunite in Prague. Irena, now involved with a man who is closer to her domineering mother than to her, remembers Josef from long ago as a potential lover, though he has long forgotten her.
How we choose to flee the past and forget it, before finally confronting its physical and emotional realities, is at the heart of Kundera's book. The Czech Å½migrÅ½'s 10th novel returns him to his homeland. Having departed Czechoslovakia more than 25 years ago to live in France, the writer perhaps best known for The Unbearable Lightness of Being adopted the French language to write his last three novels and two nonfiction works.
Kundera describes how Irena left Czechoslovakia many years ago with her husband to distance herself from a mother who flattened her. But when her husband dies and her children are grown, Irena comes back to her native land. Josef also left behind his family and possessions to emigrate, and only returns following the death of his wife. In some of this book's best pages, Kundera explores the attachment between Josef and his deceased wife, and shows how he maintains a life with her.
Kundera poetically captures the disorientation and loss that Å½migrÅ½s feel when returning to a city or country after such a long time away. His two Å½migrÅ½s shockingly realize that to be accepted by old friends and family, they must amputate the last 20 years of their lives. Richard Carter has lived on three continents but presently calls North Texas home.