You will find a discussion of this beautiful novel if you click the book cover. It is about emigration, exile, and the tricks of memory, themes Kundera has explored before. I went through a Kundera phase in the early 1980s with The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and others. I found his work profoundly moving. The present novel will not delight those looking for action, but it will deepen your grasp of the human condition. For those of us who are old it is also a mirror revealing to all of us our fractured memories and contingent sense of identity. Those interested in the multicultural experience will find insight into the mind of the emigrant and the complex ties between home country and place of exile or migration. While the novel is rooted very much in the European experience the issues mentioned transcend cultures.
During the twenty years of Odysseus’ absence, the people of Ithaca retained many recollections of him but never felt nostalgia for him. Whereas Odysseus did suffer nostalgia, and remembered almost nothing.
We can comprehend this curious contradiction if we realize that for memory to function well, it needs constant practice: if recollections are not evoked again and again, in conversations with friends, they go. Émigrés gathered together in compatriot colonies keep retelling to the point of nausea the same stories, which thereby become unforgettable. But people who do not spend time with their compatriots, like Irena or Odysseus, are inevitably stricken with amnesia. The stronger their nostalgia, the emptier of recollections it becomes. The more Odysseus languished, the more he forgot. For nostalgia does not heighten memory’s activity, it does not awaken recollections; it suffices unto itself, unto its own feelings, so fully absorbed is it by its suffering and nothing else.
Highly recommended. See Wikipedia on Milan Kundera.