3.9 10
by Milan Kundera, Linda Asher

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Sometimes—perhaps only for an instant—we fail to recognize a companion; for a moment their identity ceases to exist, and thus we come to doubt our own. The effect is at its most acute in a couple, where our existence is given meaning by our perception of a lover, and theirs of us.

With his astonishing skill at building on and out from the significant


Sometimes—perhaps only for an instant—we fail to recognize a companion; for a moment their identity ceases to exist, and thus we come to doubt our own. The effect is at its most acute in a couple, where our existence is given meaning by our perception of a lover, and theirs of us.

With his astonishing skill at building on and out from the significant moment, Kundera has placed such a situation and the resulting wave of panic at the core of his new novel. In a narrative as intense as it is brief, a moment of confusion sets in motion a complex chain of events which forces the reader to cross and recross the divide between fantasy and reality.

Editorial Reviews

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Arresting. In its brevity and unity of plot it surpasses even his previous book, Slowness.
Washington Post Book World
Its allegory of love left me shivering with an ambiguous, indefinable, yet strong sense of evil.
Baltimore Sun
A fervent and compelling romance, a moving fable about the anxieties of love and separateness.
Wall Street Journal
Curiously absorbing, with a melancholy charm.
San Fransisco Chronicle
A novel of posessive passion. . . gets us turning the pages in excitement and alarm, Kundera's wit keeps us turning them to the very end.
San Francisco Chronicle
Kundera, master of the twosome, finds erotic and existential threads everywhere in daily behavior. Like his previous books, Identity is a cluster of jeweled observations. Very French, very Kundera. But Identity has a special charm: suspense..[It] gets us turning the pages in excitement and alarm, and Kundera's wit keeps us turning them to the very end, through love's dark night of the soul and out again into a precarious sunlight.
Boston Globe
[Kundera's] way of imagining himself into the minds of women in a state of love and desire is remarkable.
Times Literary Supplement
A twisting, teasing labyrinthine story of detection.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In his second novel written in French (after Slowness), Czech-born novelist Kundera employs spare prose in the service of a meditation on the precarious nature of the human sense of self. Recently divorced ad executive Chantal, on a vacation with her younger boyfriend, Jean-Marc, believes that she is too old to be considered attractive by other men. For Chantal, identity is defined by the perceptions of strangers. Her dreams, to the extent that they impose a "leveling contemporaneity of everything a person has ever experienced," disturb Chantal. They remind her that she has a past, when she feels that she exists only in the present, that she is who she is only at any given moment. When she returns from her vacation, she begins to receive letters from an anonymous admirer. She suspects each new man she encounters to be the mysterious scribe and fantasizes how each might perceive her. Gradually, these letters, along with a few dreams, affect how Chantal views herself and her relationship with Jean-Marc, until her feelings and identity become unrecognizable both to her lover and to herself. At the end of the book, the unnamed narrator asks: "At what exact moment did the real turn into the unreal, reality into reverie? Where was the border? Where is the border?" Kundera has long explored themes of impermanence and fluctuating identityoften to memorable effect, particularly in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and even in the more recent Immortality. His new novel lacks a certain vitality, however, perhaps because, torn from any historical or political context, Kundera's metaphysical musings aren't very engaging, or perhaps because the book lacks the ironic edge that Kundera's admirers have come to expect. (May)
NY Times Book Review
Insightful..Kundera lucidly discloses the psychological obsessions of the two lovers and shows how these obsessions lead to repeated miscommunications between them.
Time Out New York
A beguiling meditation on the illusions of self-image and desire....meant to be savored, pleasurably and thoughtfully, like a fine cognac.
The Boston Globe
[Kundera's] way of imagining himself into the minds of women in a state of love and desire is remarkable.
Kirkus Reviews
Further evidence of the decline into stentorian self-parody of the Czech virtuoso who once (ages ago, it now seems) produced such wonders as Laughable Loves (1974) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). It's a portrait of the relationship between Chantal, who has suffered the death of her young son and left her dull-witted husband, and her younger lover Jean-Marc. The "story" is the progress of their increasing self-consciousness and unease with each other, fuelled by continuing echoes of separation and death (in a TV program Chantal overhears, in Jean-Marc's hospital visit to a dying friend), meandering thoughts on the subjects of boredom and our imperfect ability to know others, and especially a series of anonymous letters Chantal receives from an unknown admirer. His identity is soon revealed (and, in any case, isn't much of a secret) to us, though not to Chantal, who nevertheless becomes persuaded "that she has been living locked away by love, as Jean-Marc realizes "that his deepest vocation is to be a marginal person" excluded from the totality of his mistress's life and relationships. At the close, an unidentified "septuagenarian" (perhaps our author?) recalls Chantal to "Life!,þ and the story collapses in self-reflexive contortions as we're informed that all we've read is "treacherous fantasyþ. The worst featureþand it is by no means the only flawþof this diaphanous r‚cit is that its characters' overwrought introversion justifies their creator's indulgence in the tedious discursive commentary of which he has grown increasingly fond. Kundera seems to think he's Arthur Schnitzler or Casanova. Others may think he's Sidney Sheldon with a postgraduatedegree in comp lit. If we give him the Nobel Prize, perhaps he'll subdue his mandarin ego and go back to writing novels. Anyway, isn't it pretty to think so?

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.39(d)

Read an Excerpt

<P>Easy to think this was a junkroom, silent and airless in a warm dusk, but then a shadow moved, someone emerged from it to pull back curtains and throw open windows. It was a woman, who now stepped quickly to a door and went out, leaving it open. The room thus revealed was certainly over-full. Along one wall were all the evidences of technical evolution--a fax machine, a copy machine, a word processor, telephones--but as for the rest, the place could easily be some kind of theatrical storeroom, with a gold bust of some Roman female, much larger than life, masks, a crimson velvet curtain, posters, and piles of sheet music, or rather photocopies that had faithfully reproduced yellowing and crumbling originals.<P>On the wall over the word processor was a large reproduction of Cezanne's Mardi Gras, also the worse for wear: it had been torn across and put together with cellotape.<P>The woman next door was energetically attending to something: objects were being moved about. Then she reappeared and stood looking in at the room.<P>Not a young woman, as it had been easy to imagine from the vigour of her movements when still half seen in the shadows. A woman of a certain age, as the French put it, or even a bit older, and not dressed to present herself, but wearing old trousers and shirt.<P>This woman was alert, full of energy, yet she did not seem pleased with what she looked at. However, she shook all that off and went to her processor, sat down, put out a hand to switch on a tape. At once the room was filled with the voice of the Countess Die, from eight centuries ago (or a voice able to persuade the listener she was the Countess), singing hertimeless plaints:<P>I must sing, whether I will or not:<P>I feel so much pain over him whose friend I hold myself,<P>For I love him more than anything that is . . . <P>The modern woman, sitting with her hands ready to attack the keys, was conscious she felt superior to this long-ago sister, not to say condemning. She did not like this in herself. Was she getting intolerant?<P>Yesterday Mary had rung from the theatre to say that Patrick was in emotional disarray because he had fallen in love again, and she had responded with a sharp comment.<P>'Now, come on, Sarah,' Mary had rebuked her.<P>Then Sarah had agreed, and laughed at herself.<P>Feeling disquiet, however. There seems to be a rule that what you condemn will turn up sooner or later, to be lived through. Forced to eat your vomit--yes, Sarah knew this well enough. Somewhere in her past she had made a note: Beware of condemning other people, or watch out for yourself.<P>The Countess Die was too disturbing, and Sarah switched the plaint off.<P>Silence. She sat breathing it in. She was altogether too much affected by this old troubadour and trouvere music. She had been listening to little else for days, to set the tone of what she had to write. Not only the Countess, but Bernard de Ventadour, Pierre Vidal, Giraut de Bornelh, and other old singers, had put her into a state of . . . she was restless, and she was feverish. When had music affected her like this before? She did not think it had. Wait, though. Once she had listened to jazz, particularly the blues, it seemed day and night, for months. But that was when her husband died, and the music had fed her melancholy. But she did not remember . . . yes, first she had been grief-ridden, and then she had chosen music to fit her state. But this was a different matter altogether.<P>Her task this evening was not a difficult one. The programme notes were too stiff in tone: this was because, writing them, she had been afraid of being over-charmed by the subject. And she was being charmed by the sensuous voice of the Countess--or the young woman Alicia de la Haye.<P>She did not have to do the programme notes now. In fact she had made a rule for herself not to work in the evenings at home: a rule she had not been keeping recently. To spell it out, she had not been keeping her own prescriptions for balance and good mental health.<P>She sat listening to silence. A sparrow chirped.<P>She thought, I'll look up that Provencal poem by Pound; that's hardly work after all.<P>The desk was stacked with reference books, files of cuttings, and on one side of it bookshelves rose to the ceiling. A book lay open on one side of the word processor.<P>Growing old gracefully . . . the way has been signposted. One might say the instructions are in an invisible script which becomes slowly legible as life exposes it. Then the appropriate words only have to be spoken. On the whole the old don't do badly. Pride is a great thing, and the necessary stances and stoicisms are made easy because the young do not know--it is hidden from them--that the flesh withers around an unchanged core. The old share with each other ironies appropriate to ghosts at a feast, seen by each other but not by the guests whose antics and posturings they watch, smiling, remembering.<P>To this set of placid sentences full of self-respect most people getting old would subscribe, feeling well presented and even defended by them.<P>Yes, I'll go along with that, thought Sarah. Sarah Durham. A good sensible name for a sensible woman.<P>The book where she had found these sentences had been on a trestle in a street market, the memoirs of a society woman once known for her beauty, written in old age and published when she was nearly a hundred, twenty years ago. A strange thing, Sarah thought, that she had picked the book up. Once, she would never have even opened a book by an old person: nothing to do with her, she would have felt. But what could be odder than the way that books which chime with one's condition or stage in life insinuate themselves into one's hand?<P>She pushed away that book, thought Pound's verses could wait, and decided to enjoy an evening when nothing at all would be expected of her. An evening in April, and it was still light. This room was calm, usually calming, and like the other three rooms in this flat held thirty years of memories. Rooms a long time lived in can be like littered sea shores; hard to know where this or that bit of debris has come from.<P>

Identity. Copyright © by Milan Kundera. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Milan Kundera is the author of the novels The Joke, Farewell Waltz, Life Is Elsewhere, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Immortality, and the short-story collection Laughable Loves—all originally written in Czech. His most recent novels Slowness, Identity, and Ignorance, as well as his nonfiction works The Art of the Novel, Testaments Betrayed, The Curtain, and Encounter, were originally written in French.

Brief Biography

Paris, France
Date of Birth:
April 1, 1929
Place of Birth:
Brno, Czechoslovakia
Undergraduate degree in philosophy, Charles University, Prague, 1952

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Identity 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
With lyrical craft, the words within the story weave passion and lead us onto an intricate and tangled ride through delusions, daydreams, deceptions, sometimes losing the ability to differentiate between the actual and the far-fetched fantasy. And then, in silence, we question the genuineness between the outside world and the world within our mind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Kundera has an understanding of life that I wish other authors would focus on. I am sick of books that have hero's that save the world. Give me real life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
you have to read this book...