Quote Of The Day: The Feeling Of Belonging To Nowhere

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Quote Of The Day #57

Irena moved to Paris after Prague Spring. She and her husband struggled to raise their two daughters. About 20 years later, her husband died, her daughters grew up, the Berlin Wall came down. Then Irena met Gustaf, and the two started a relationship. Irena’s beautiful and narcissistic mother came for a visit from Prague. Just as usual, her mother had no interest in Irena at all, but she showered attention on Gustaf. Actually her mother was so charming to him that he came up with an idea of establishing a branch of his company in Prague so that he could go visit Irena’s hometown.

For 20 years, Irena liked Paris, but couldn’t really fit in that well. And then when she went back to Prague, she felt that she couldn’t fit in very well with her old friends, with whom she had separated for 20 years. And worse, when she met her old friend and lover Josef, the two were surprised to find that their memory of the past varied considerably.

This is such an interesting book since it talks about people who migrated and transplanted themselves. There are many passages about how people feel and act and talk that I can very well relate to. I’ve never really liked Milan Kundera’s books before. In college, my friends were all crazy about him–he is like the voice for the oppressed–and I too bought several of his books (translated version), but I could read no more than 50 pages before putting it aside. His books were too sad for me.

However, I picked up his book “Ignorance” this week–I thought I had to read it before throwing it away, which is a way to comfort myself that I have not been wasting money on buying books that I would never read. And surprisingly, I really love “Ignorance”. I guess the topic is close to home and I am very interested in a person like Irena, who migrated and struggled. I wish I can read more books like this.

Here are some quotes:

Is it true that emigration causes artists to lose their creativity? That their inspiration withers when it no longer has the roots of their native land to nourish it?

Wasn’t it awful of the daughter not to be delighted at the presence of her mother who, after so many years, had come to see her? … And why, through all these five days, does she (her mother) not ask her daughter a single question? Not one question about her life, and none about France either–about its cuisine, its literature, its cheeses, its wines, its politics, its theaters, its films, its cars, its pianists, its cellists, its athletes?

That’s how it had been ever since she was a child: the mother fussed over her son…, but was manfully Spartan toward her daughter. Her (Irena’s mother) behavior was very well intentioned: overflowing with energy and health herself, she worried over her daughter’s low vitality; her rough style was meant to rid the daughter of her hypersensitivity, rather like an athletic father who throws his fearful child into the swimming pool in the belief that this is the best way to teach him to swim… Irena had always felt less pretty and less intelligent in her mother’s presence.

That evening Irena did not talk much: she looked on in surprise as her mother displayed an unexpected capacity for interest in another person. With just her thirty badly pronounced English words, she overwhelmed Gustaf with questions about his life, his business, his views…

Everybody thinks we left to get ourselves an easy life. They don’t know how hard it is to carve out a little place for yourself in a foreign world.

9 thoughts on “Quote Of The Day: The Feeling Of Belonging To Nowhere

  1. What an interesting book. I definitely know that feeling of not fitting perfectly anywhere. I’ve always been part of an immigrant country and have never lived in my homeland. And sometimes it feels like I’m not good enough for either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s what I feel too for a long time. I tried to fit in here and there, but my attempts only made me feel like a fraud. Worse, my attempts disturbed my mental and emotional equilibrium, making my life much less productive. I guess living in two worlds also has its benefit too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The first quote about emigration can definitely play a part in losing creativity, I think it’s always important to try and remember your roots! Thanks for sharing this! 😆

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read anything by Kundera – so this is very useful in terms of giving me a taste. I’m quite pleased my mother had two sons because I suspect she might have paid more attention to sons than daughters if she’d had both!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I guess it is just natural that mother like sons. I have observed that and it is what often happens. Somehow I vaguely feel that the mother-daughter relationship has no place in many traditional families. The result is that many mothers don’t know how to relate to their daughters. A mother-daughter relationship requires certain kind of openness and honesty about women’s conditions, which are too much for a traditional mother to handle.

      Liked by 1 person

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