Kiss me!

Benjamin Markovits

Milan Kundera’s novels are built around ideas – predicaments, particular emotions, even gestures – like cities around metro stops. His characters live as close to them as possible, meet others of a like mind or misery, then depart for the next stop and the next conception. His new novel, Ignorance, isn’t about ignorance in the ordinary sense, but about the predicaments of both exile and homecoming: ‘In Spanish añoranza comes from the verb añorar (to feel nostalgia), which comes from the Catalan enyorar, itself derived from the Latin word ignorare (to be unaware of, not know, not experience; to lack or miss). In that etymological light nostalgia seems something like the pain of ignorance, of not knowing.’ In this derivation, a sentiment is turned into a kind of blundering; and this is Kundera’s point: how much ignorance surrounds exile. The emigrant doesn’t know what’s going on at home and doesn’t know how her life would have turned out if she had stayed. The people who stay forget the ones who go and fail to notice how they themselves are changing. Delusions quickly fill the space once filled by intimate knowledge.

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