Foreign but Familiar; Identity

Article excerpt


KUNDERA is the sort of foreign writer that anyone ought to be able to get to grips with. He may be a Czech but, fortunately for him, his writing isn't as impenetrable as his mother tongue.

Nor do you pick up his novels (the most famous of which, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being,

was made into a film starring the modish Juliette Binoche) trying to chase the glumness out of your heart, pretending hard to feel good about a stodgy, worthy work of literature set in some dreary Eastern Bloc state.

You don't because that's not what Kundera's novels are about.

His latest is not just - as the title suggests - about identity, but about the love affair between two people, Jean-Marc and Chantal.

Kundera lives in France (and writes in French), where he sets Identity, which starts as unremarkably as any Briton's summer holiday might, with 'an hotel in a small town on the Normandy coast, which they had found in a guidebook'.

But location scarcely seems important. What Kundera is hot on is intimacy and, as the narrative continues, the relationship of Chantal and Jean-Marc is unfolded before us. …