Dipesh Majumdar

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Book Review: Identity by Milan Kundera

Identity is a fiction by Milan Kundera.

It’s a small story.

It can be easily read and finished within one week.

The attention is firmly maintained throughout, though may lead to small phases of boredom at times. It goes on in a not-so-fast pace and in a particular rhythm created by the imagination of the writer. It seems to resonate with the feelings and emotional state of the writer and also seems as if this story was not planned before and the idea unfolded as the writer kept writing… The story goes on and on… sometimes the reader is perplexed and made to question, “What’s going on? What next?” The novel starts with real people, real circumstances and everything real but somewhere on the way loses contact with reality and spreads wings into the abstract world of feelings, emotions, dreams and nightmares. However it again tries to reestablish its relationship with reality and creates a good impact at the end.

The best part of this novel is the way it comes to an end. Without any intention of revealing and spoiling the mystery-factor, the end comes like a mixture of surprise and anticlimax. No, not the typical mystery that you come across in murder novels of Agatha Christie or thriller movies like I know what you did last summer… but a soft suspense, much less action packed and pretty subtle and related to human emotions… of bondage… love and togetherness. It is different and the ending is good, notwithstanding.

Things to learn from this novel: Well, this depends upon the perspective with which the reader reads. For me there are invaluable lessons hidden in this story. Without divulging all details… let me simply write them down…

1. One can’t expect everything in a partner. If one is wealthy he/she might not be trustworthy. If one is trustworthy then he/she might be a broke. But one has to learn to adjust to the shortcomings and give due credit to the positive aspects.

2. Psyche of a man and woman are different. Each one demands time, space and freedom to blossom. Each one is important and needs respect from both partners. Instead of doubting the other’s honesty, it’s better to sit down with a cool mind and discuss everything openly.

3. Ultimately one needs to give time to everything. That’s the best possible remedy. Time heals almost everything. Also there is a stage when one has to stop comparing between people, different circumstances in life and settle down with whatever one has. Be contented.

Personally I felt this novel was a joy to read. Seldom I am able to complete something I start (an honest acknowledgement), and I believe something which I am able to finish till the last page deserves the tag of being a good work. My last novel, ‘Chanakya’s chant’ was left half finished. I somehow failed to complete it in spite of several attempts. My fault, I know, but it’s also that the author of Chanakya’s chants, failed to generate the willingness to keep turning pages until the last.

And this novel is the one I have completed… right from start to end.


I would rate it 7.2/10.


Build your word muscle: Some words from this book for vocabulary are listed below.

Valise (suitcase, luggage, baggage)
Jostle (to knock or bump against somebody)
Frivolity (triviality)
Banal (lacking originality, freshness or novelty)
Definitively (finally)
Gesticulate (make gestures – to move the arms or hands when speaking)
Marionette (puppet worked by strings)
Twerp (a silly, insignificant, or contemptible person)
Blasé (1: apathetic to pleasure or excitement as a result of excessive indulgence or enjoyment : world-weary. 2: sophisticated, worldly-wise)
Smug (1. contentedly confident of one's ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent. 2. trim; spruce; smooth; sleek)
Spite (n. 1. Malicious ill will prompting an urge to hurt or humiliate. 2. An instance of malicious feeling.)
Malicious (motivated by or resulting from a desire to cause harm or pain to another)
Solicitous (1. a. Anxious or concerned: a solicitous parent. b. Expressing care or concern)
Writhe (1. To twist, as in pain, struggle, or embarrassment. 2. To move with a twisting or contorted motion.)
Clustered (n. A group of the same or similar elements gathered or occurring closely together)
Ebb (to diminish or lessen in intensity… The pain gradually ebbed away. Another example - … and looked carefully along the ebbing waterline -> along the receding waterline)
Clench (to close your teeth or fist tightly, e.g. when angry. Eg. … his face clenched in a grimace of weeping)
Grimace (a contorted twisting of the face that expresses disgust or pain… his face clenched in a grimace of weeping)
Silhouette (an outline of somebody or something filled in with black or a dark color on a light background, especially when done as a likeness or work of art)
Sprawl (intransitive verb. to sit or lie with the arms and legs spread awkwardly in different directions)
Self-reproach (taking blame on self)
Reproach (1.To Criticize somebody for doing something wrong 2. To Feel ashamed because you know you have done something wrong)
Chignon (a woman's hairstyle consisting of a roll of hair worn at the nape of the neck. Eg. … he realized that what he had taken to be her chignon was a bandanna knotted around her head)
Bandanna (a large square of brightly colored cotton or silk cloth worn over the hair or around the neck, synonym->scarf)
Pavilion (a summerhouse or other often ornamental building in a park, fair, or garden, used for shelter and entertainment)
Obsequious (excessively eager to please or obey)
Snare (a trap for small animals that operates like a noose)
Flush (transitive and intransitive verb to become red in the face or on the skin, or make somebody become red)
Scalpel (a surgical knife with a short, very sharp blade)
Platitude (a banal statement- a pointless, unoriginal, or empty comment or statement made as though it was significant or helpful)
Scoff (to express derision or scorn about somebody or something • She scoffed at all our suggestions.) syn- mock, ridicule, sneer, deride.
Contempt - (n. a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody or something considered to be worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect)
Deride – (v. to show contempt)
Disdain (n. 1. extreme contempt or disgust for something or somebody 2. To look down upon somebody… to regard somebody or something as not worthy of respect)
Imperceptible (adj. very slight or gradual • an imperceptible change in temperature … so that bit by bit, imperceptibly, she would become part of it.) syn- unnoticeable
Grotesque(odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre. 2. fantastic in the shaping and combination of forms, as in decorative work combining incongruous human and animal figures with scrolls, foliage, etc.)
Exhort (transitive verb to urge somebody strongly and earnestly to do something)
Eavesdrop (intransitive verb. Listen secretly - to listen to a conversation without the speakers being aware of it… she felt as if all the members of the tribe were eavesdropping on them from behind the door, were secretly inspecting their bed-sheets, evaluating their morning fatigue)
Mercenary (a professional soldier paid to fight for an army other than that of his or her country… even the little nephews were enlisted as mercenaries in the war)
Transfix (make somebody immobile with shock- to shock or terrify somebody so much as to induce a momentary inability to move. 2. to pierce somebody or something through with a weapon or other sharp object )
Voyeur (somebody who gains pleasure from watching, especially secretly, other people's bodies or the sexual acts in which they participate)
Avid (avid is adjective and not verb. In this novel it is used as ver. Don’t know why. Meaning->eager for or enthusiastic about something… There he stopped, and like a voyeur avid to steal a glimpse of some intimate scene, he watched her)
Brusque (abrupt, blunt, or curt in manner or speech)
Imperious (arrogant - haughty and domineering)
Nebulous (not clear, distinct, or definite)
Iniquitous (immoral, especially in a way that results in great injustice or unfairness)
Promiscuity (n. behavior characterized by casual and indiscriminate sexual intercourse, often with many people)
Heresy (n. an opinion or belief that contradicts established religious teaching, especially one that is officially condemned by a religious authority)
Transgression (n. a crime or any act that violates a law, command, or moral code)
Exorbitant (adj. far greater or higher than is reasonable)
Malevolent (adj. having or showing a desire to harm others)
Prude (n.somebody who is easily offended by matters relating to sex or nudity) The foetus’s self-fellation will move every grandmother in the world, even the sourest ones, even the most prudish.
Repugnance (n. a very strong feeling of disgust about something)
Prosaic (not having any features that are interesting or imaginative)
Rifle (v. to search (a house, safe, etc) and steal from it; ransack)
Revulsion (n. a sudden violent feeling of disgust)
Racket (n. an illegal or dishonest money-making scheme, involving activities such as bribery, fraud, or intimidation) eg. It’s impossible to have a child and despise the world as it is, because that’s the world we have 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.
Laconic (adj. using very few words) syn- terse. Eg. The letter hadn’t the earlier laconic lightness. It read like a lengthy legal deposition.
Deposition (testimony that is given under oath, especially a statement given by a witness that is read out in court in the witness's absence)
Fluster (transitive and intransitive verb. to become nervous or agitated, or make somebody become nervous or agitated)
Discomfiture (n. frustrating feelings of embarrassment or awkwardness) When her discomfiture becomes unbearable…
Ineffable (indescribable) Ineffable soul
Predilection (n. a special liking or preference for something ) When finally he decided on medicine, he was responding not to some secret predilection but rather to an altruistic idealism.
Altruism (1. selflessness - an attitude or way of behaving marked by unselfish concern for the welfare of others 2. the belief that acting for the benefit of others is right and good) syn. Philanthropy
Discreet (1. Tactful - careful to avoid embarrassing or upsetting others 2. Good at keeping secret - careful not to speak about anything that should be secret or confidential 3. Subtle and unobtrusive - subtle and circumspect, ensuring that no undue attention is attracted) syn- inconspicuous, unobtrusive. Antonym – blatant. Eg. In an effort to identify her correspondent, Chantal discreetly but carefully looks about her. At the corner of their street is a bistro: the ideal spot for anyone who should want to spy on her…
Bistro (a small restaurant or bar)
Importunate (continually asking for something, especially in a forceful, insistent, or troublesome manner) Eg. More letters arrived and she was less and less able to ignore them. They were intelligent, decent, with nothing ridiculous about them, nothing importunate. Her correspondent wanted nothing, asked nothing, insisted on nothing. He was wise enough (or canny enough) to leave undescribed his own personality, his life, his feelings, his desires.
Canny (shrewd enough not to be easily deceived) syn- wily, sly
Uncanny (too strange or unlikely to seem merely natural or human) syn- eerie
Rumple (to take on a disheveled appearance, or make clothes or hair untidy, e.g. by creasing clothes or pulling hair out of style)…before her eyes, she sees only her red gown rumpled by their bodies…
Droll (amusing in a wry or odd way) syn- funny, humorous
Orgy (wild, drunken or licentious festivity or revelry.)eg.Only later did she learn of his renown as a womanizer, an orgiast.)
Spout (to discharge a substance forcibly in a jet or stream, or be discharged in this way)
Reticent (unwilling to communicate very much, talk freely, or reveal all the facts about something)
Shroud (v. to cover or conceal somebody or something) He is the only one, the man with no job and with all that free time, who could unobtrusively put a letter in her box, the only one who, shrouded in his nothingness, could follow her unnoticed in her daily rounds.
Obtrude (v. 1. Impose, 2. Make something stick out) eg. "Not a leaf stirred; not a sound obtruded upon great Nature's meditation."
Alter ego (1. a second side to somebody's personality, different from the one that most people know. 2. Very close friend)
Lecherous (adj. expressing or displaying lewdness and lust in a way regarded as distasteful)
Romp (v.1. play boisterously. 2. Run easily. 3. Make easy progress 4. Win with ease) eg. 1. The dogs had a romp in the park. 2. Their team just romped all over us. 3. … lecherously watching them romp in front of him.
Complicity(involvement with another in doing something illegal or wrong)… there was no gleam of complicity in his eyes; no mute allusion to an adventure shared; nothing but authentic and total surprise; the frightened astonishment of a poor man.
Gleam (intransitive verb. to shine brightly; noun. A steady bright shine)
Sneer (n. expression of scorn- a facial expression of scorn or hostility in which the upper lip may be raised) No longer able to stand the invisible observer’s sneering gaze, as soon as she reaches home she goes to the wardrobe.
Narcissist (n. excessive self-admiration and self-centeredness)
Coy (artfully or affectedly shy or reserved; slyly hesitant; coquettish. 2. shy; modest. 3. showing reluctance, especially when insincere or affected, to reveal one's plans or opinions, make a commitment, or take a stand: The mayor was coy about his future political aspirations.)
Platter (a large flat dish for serving food)
Discretion (n. 1. Tactful - the good judgment and sensitivity needed to avoid embarrassing or upsetting others. 2. Freedom to decide)
Espionage (…as she proclaimed she wanted it in order to be alone there and away from espionage.)
Graphology (the study of handwriting, especially in order to assess somebody's personality from patterns or features of his or her writing)
sumptuous (magnificent or grand in appearance)
Mantle (a loose sleeveless cloak. Eg. Within her body she sensed a wave of heat rise, a powerful, ferocious, expanding wave, she was red, red over her whole body; once again the words about the crimson cardinal’s mantle crossed her mind, because, in fact, her body was now swathed in a sumptuous mantle stitched of flames.)
Peril (1. exposure to risk of harm 2. Danger example sentence: … and when she is finally outside on the door-step she has the sensation of having escaped some huge peril.)
Transubstantiate ( 1. verb … in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox doctrine, to undergo a change in substance, from bread and wine to the body and blood of Jesus Christ during Communion 2. Change from one substance into another. Eg. Faced with transubstantiated (or desubstantiated) Chantal, he felt a strange melancholy apathy overtake him.)
Simulacrum (representation or image. Eg. If Chantal is a simulacrum, then so is the whole of Jean-Marc’s life.)
Candor (n. honesty or directness, whether refreshing or distasteful . eg. Wasn’t it the certainty of my departure that allowed me to speak to you with utter candor?)
Denouement (n. a final part of a story or drama in which everything is made clear and no questions or surprises remain. Eg. Going away. Yes, that’s the only possible denouement, but go where?)
Unseemly (contrary to accepted standards of good taste or appropriate behavior)
Lascivious (lewd - showing a desire for, or unseemly interest in, sex. eg. London, the city of lascivious dreams.)

Some of the sentences used in this novel were indeed good expression of feelings. Here I ought to stress that the translator has done a fabulous job. Here are the sentences:

That is why she dislikes dreams; they impose an unacceptable equivalence among the various periods of the same life, a leveling contemporaneity of everything a person has ever experienced;

But she did not wish to forget her child. She stood guard over his irreplaceable individuality.

You can suffer nostalgia in the presence of the beloved if you glimpse a future where the beloved is no more; if the beloved's death is, invisibly, already present.

It’s impossible to have a child and despise the world as it is, because that’s the world we have put the child into. The child makes us care about the world, think about it’s future, willingly join in its racket and its turmoils, take its incurable stupidity seriously.

When finally he decided on medicine, he was responding not to some secret predilection but rather to an altruistic idealism.

Within her body she sensed a wave of heat rise, a powerful, ferocious, expanding wave, she was red, red over her whole body; once again the words about the crimson cardinal’s mantle crossed her mind, because, in fact, her body was now swathed in a sumptuous mantle stitched of flames.

The pain he feels does not wish to heal; on the contrary, it seeks to aggravate the wound and parade it about the way one parades an injustice for all to see. He hasn’t the patience to wait for Chantal’s return to explain the source of the misunderstanding. Deep down he knows very well that this would be the only reasonable behavior, but pain doesn’t listen to reason, it has its own reason, which is not reasonable. What his unreasonable reason wants is for Chantal, when she returns, to find the apartment empty, without him, as she proclaimed she wanted it in order to be alone there and away from espionage.

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