Identity by Milan Kundera (Czech Republic)

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Title: Identitatea

Author: Milan Kundera

Original title: L’Identité

Original language: French

Rating: 5 out of 5

“Friendship is indispensable to man for the proper function of his memory. Remembering our past, carrying it around with us always, may be the necessary requirement for maintaining, as they say, the wholeness of the self. To ensure that the self doesn’t shrink, to see that it holds on to its volume, memories have to be watered like potted flowers, and the watering calls for regular contact with the witnesses of the past, that is to say, with friends. They are our mirror; our memory; we ask nothing of them but that they polish the mirror from time to time so we can look at ourselves in it.”

“Anyhow, he asks himself, what is an intimate secret? Is that where we hide what’s most mysterious, most singular, most original about a human being? Are her intimate secrets what make Chantal the unique being he loves? No. What people keep secret is the most common, the most ordinary, the most prevalent thing, the same thing everybody has: the body and its needs, it maladies, its manias – constipation, for instance, or menstruation. We ashamedly conceal these intimate matters not because they are so personal but because, on the contrary, they are so lamentably impersonal. How can he resent Chantal, for belonging to her sex, for resembling other women, for wearing a brassiere and along with it the brassiere psychology? s if he didn’t himself belong to some eternal masculine idiocy! They both of them got their start in that putterer’s workshop where their eyes were botched with the disjointed action of the eyelid and where a reeking little factory was installed in their bellies. They both of them have bodies where their poor souls have almost no room. Shouldn’t they forgive that in each other? Shouldn’t they move beyond the little weaknesses they’re hiding at the bottom of drawers? He was gripped by an enormous compassion, and to draw a final lune under that whole story, he decided to write her one last letter.”

“Keep this in mind: it is our religion to praise life. The word “life” is the king of words. The king­word surrounded by other grand words. The word “adventure”! The word “future”! And the word “hope”! By the way, do you know the code name for the atomic bomb they dropped on Hiroshima? “Little Boy”! That’s a genius, the fellow who invented that code! They couldn’t have dreamed up a better one. Little boy, kid, tyke, tot – there’s no word that’s more tender, more touching, more loaded with future.”

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