Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Identity's Seeming Loss, Is Found in Another's Love

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Identity's Seeming Loss, Is Found in Another's Love

Article excerpt

IDENTITY

By Milan Kundera

Translated from the French By Linda Asher HarperCollins 168 pp., $22 A resident of France for the past two decades, the Czech-born writer Milan Kundera has taken to writing in the language of his adopted country. His previous novel, "Slowness," was a lighter-than- air souffle of a book, paying tribute to the spirit of 18th-century France, seen as an era of leisure, grace, and elegance, in contrast to our modern obsession with speed, instant gratification, and image- consciousness. Also written in French, Kundera's new novel, "Identity," has the playfulness of "Slowness," but mines a deeper level of thought and feeling. It is the story of post-modern lovers: Chantal and Jean- Marc. Chantal is a woman whose experiences have given her a sense of just how fluid and precarious a thing one's personal identity can be. Now working in a glossy advertising agency, she was once an idealistic schoolteacher and a mother. When her son died at age 5, Chantal's husband and his family urged her to have another child. Her unwillingness to do so led her to seek a divorce - and a more lucrative job in advertising. Chantal's current lover, Jean-Marc, is four years younger than she, but a lot less financially secure. He is very devoted to her and, although neither of them likes to acknowledge it, he's also somewhat dependent on her, having moved in to live at her place. As the novel opens, a few slight shifts in their perceptions - of themselves and of each other - set in motion a chain of events threatening to destroy their relationship. The first mild disturbance in the field occurs when Chantal notices that she has ceased to attract the gazes of strange men. Despite Jean-Marc's reassurances of his enduring love for her, it still bothers her that she is in the process of losing certain attributes she had long considered part of her identity. Shortly thereafter, Chantal begins receiving mash notes from an unknown admirer. Although she knows it is ridiculous to attach much value to such things, these letters subtly modify her relationship with Jean-Marc. …

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