Typically I will champion the craft of Milan Kundera, willing to overlook his overindulgent preoccupation with sexuality in favor of his ability to weave beautiful stories told from multiple perspectives. Identity is not the Kundera I champion and is in my opinion, the weakest of his eight works I’ve read to date. This novella is stripped down and at 168 pages I thought that I would breeze through it, as most of Kundera’s works only require 2 or 3 days of reading, however Identity required an entire week for me to read because I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to prioritize turning its pages amidst the occupations of my life.
I spent some time trying to determine why Identity failed to capture my interest and I determined that what was missing was that this novella lacks Kundera’s often present tangential consideration of politics, history, and artistic influence. In many of his works, he uses these diversions alongside existential stories of human relationships to highlight the character’s lives as a reflection of their place and time within historical circumstances. Furthermore, many of his works include multiple perspectives of several characters of varying ages and backgrounds to illustrate the disconnections of person, individuality, and relationship. These elements are lacking in Identity, which only explores the troubled romantic relationship between two central characters and very little else. The main plot device, the identity of an admirer’s love letters was easy to determine as soon as it was introduced, and the ending involving Chantal’s escapades apart from her lover Jean-Marc felt unexpected, unnecessary, and forced.
The book isn’t completely vapid of worth and there are some gems of insight such as the following:
“It is impossible to have a child and despise the world as it is, because that’s the world we’ve put the child into. The child makes us care about the world, think about its future, willingly join in its racket and its turmoils, take its incurable stupidity seriously.” (59)
However, a few quotoables does not a great book make. For anyone just becoming acquainted with Kundera, I would urge you to steer away from this work, because he can do so much better.