Milan Kundera’s “Identity”: Sure, Maybe Not As Good As “Unbearable Lightness”, But Much Shorter!

Kundera’s seminal novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” was my favorite book out of last year’s readings and is easily in my top 10 books of all time. “Identity” is a great read -and I highly recommend it- but it’s not the same caliber as his magnum opus.

Kundera’s writing is a blatant rejection of the irritating “show, don’t tell” mantra often pelting writers in workshops and MFA programs -his prose is so magnificently constructed that at no point does the reader ever forget they are reading a Novel in the strictest sense (and, yes, he is going to break the fourth wall at some point). There are always questions being asked in his writing -often questions too sprawling and interdependent to be asked in any other way than his latticework novelization.

“Identity” is a short treatment of an intriguing set of questions. What is the nature of our perception of the identities of those people whom we love? Is their identity -in relation to us- defined by our perception? Is it ontological or external, subject to change, capable of disappearing under the blinking of our eyes? Kundera’s wonderful novella-treatment of these ideas is rewarding and magnetic, even if it falls short of his very best.

Recommendation: Read it. Or read “Unbearable Lightness” first. Give yourself time to chew on the questions raised -in either case.

by Milan Kundera

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