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the Complete Review
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Milan Kundera

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To purchase Identity

Title: Identity
Author: Milan Kundera
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng.: 1998)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Identity - US
Identity - UK
Identity - Canada
L'identité - Canada
L'identité - France
Die Identität - Deutschland
L'identità - Italia
La identidad - España
  • Translated by Linda Asher
  • French title: L'identité

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Our Assessment:

B : A small book, but successful in what it sets out to do -- though very different from his earlier Czech novels

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe B 24/5/1998 David Mehegan
Christ. Science Monitor A 23/5/1998 Merle Rubin
Daily Telegraph C 4/4/1998 Alain de Botton
FAZ . 6/10/1998 Peter Demetz
The Guardian B+ 2/4/1998 Laura Cumming
The Independent A- 11/4/1998 Jonathan Keates
Indian Rev. of Books A- 7/1997 Sharada Bhanu
Literary Review A 4/1998 Clive Sinclair
The Nation D 11/5/1998 Maureen Corrigan
New Statesman B 24/4/1998 Jason Cowley
Newsweek C+ 4/5/1998 Jeff Giles
The NY Rev. of Books C+ 16/7/1998 Michael Wood
The NY Times A- 7/5/1998 C. Lehmann-Haupt
The NY Times Book Rev. B- . Robert Grudin
The Observer . 19/4/1998 George Steiner
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction B Fall/1998 Paul Maliszewski
The Times B+ 5/4/1998 John Spurling
TLS . 10/4/1998 David Herd
Virginia Quarterly Rev. C+ Fall/1998 .
Wall Street Journal B 1/5/1998 Amy Gamerman
Washington Post B- 31/5/1998 Stephen Koch

  Review Consensus:

  Nothing resembling a consensus. Opinions are all over the place, on all aspects of the novel. Practically no agreement, except that it is short.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Kundera's razor-sharp irony appears to have deserted him, replaced instead by grouchy remarks about many aspects of modern, and particularly French, life" - Alain de Botton, Daily Telegraph

  • "Im Entwurf seiner neuen Prosa bewährt sich Kundera als virtuoser Erfinder überraschender Situationen sowie als scharfblickender und spielerischer Arrangeur täglicher Täuschungen und intimer Manöver" - Peter Demetz, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(A) penetrating meditation on the mystery of identity." - Laura Cumming, The Guardian

  • "Identity is short, brilliant, and a joy to read." - Clive Sinclair, Literary Review

  • "(A) flawed but insightful novel." - Robert Grudin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Perhaps the fairest way of experiencing Kundera's allegory is to take it as a scenario or script for a nouvelle vague film. As such, it is both adroit and dated." - George Steiner, The Observer

  • "(C)uriously absorbing, with a melancholy charm that lingers past its last apercu." - Amy Gamerman, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Kundera's slight novel is deceptively French in feel. Fifty-one chapters over a bare 168 pages, less than thirty thousand words, it fits comfortably on a shelf alongside much that has recently been written in France. His second novel (after Slowness) to be written in French (his earlier work was, of course, written in his native Czech), it has not received a very warm welcome in the US. We were then pleasantly surprised: there is a story, and it is rather well presented -- and the usual thoughtful Kundera asides can also be found, though he does not expound on his points as much as previously.
       Critics have complained that the novel is too vague, which is perhaps true -- though they are obviously unfamiliar with much contemporary French literature, beside which this appears rock-solid. The tale is a light and slight one, gently exploring the issue of identity with a Kunderian spin. It is a small book, and perhaps it disappoints that there is not more to it, but that seems to have been Kundera's intention. For what it sets out to do we found it perfectly satisfactory -- not a brilliant or necessary book, but a comforting, engaging short read that prods one to think. Those who enjoyed Kundera's broader Czech tapestries might want to think twice before picking this up, those who enjoy contemporary French and German literature and don't approach the book with expectations of laughter and forgetting should definitely have a look.
       We must add that we were somewhat disappointed by the translation. We found it peculiarly inept and clumsy at times. Linda Asher does not seem to know exactly what tone to strike, and though she seems to gain confidence as she proceeds there remain too many moments when she fails Kundera. (Another reason to read the book in the original, if at all possible !)

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Identity: Reviews: Milan Kundera: Other books by Milan Kundera under review: Books about Milan Kundera under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Milan Kundera lived 1929 to 2023. The author of numerous highly acclaimed and widely translated novels he left Czechoslovakia in 1975, settling in France. He has become a French citizen, and beginning with Slowness (1995) has completely forsaken his native language, writing even his fiction in French.

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