For book 21, I read Milan Kundera’s Identity. Kundera’s strength is that his thoughts are interesting enough that even if his stories and his writing are unremarkable, there’s still something to be gained from reading his books.
The story itself was predictable. I figured out who the secret admirer was before the protagonist did, and I’m not usually good at figuring that out when reading mysteries. Kundera gives up on even writing an ending, throws something together and says “oh, at some point this turned into a dream.” Then sort of cheekily tells the reader to try and figure out when it was.
The author doesn’t describe the physical world much, and doesn’t believe in doing so. Too much description does get plodding, but when I try to imagine the people or settings in Kundera’s work, it comes out like cubism or impressionism or abstract art. I guess neglecting descriptions can be its own type of distraction.
Kundera’s strength is that his insights, even if I don’t agree with them, seem like they could be true for many others. Here are some that stood out to me:
“This is the real and the only reason for friendship: to provide a mirror so the other person can contemplate his image from the past.”
“Every woman measures how much she’s aged by the interest or uninterest men show in her body.”
“When he wondered: what should I choose for my life’s work? His inner self would fall into the most uncomfortable silence.”
“The feeling that he was about to find himself alone on a platform all the trains had left.” — in re: dropping out of medical school
“I would imagine life before me like a tree… We see life that way for only a brief time. Thereafter, it comes to look like a track laid out once and for all, a tunnel one can never get out of.”
“The quantity of boredom… is much greater today than it once was. Because the old occupations… were unthinkable without a passionate involvement.”
“Since they’re hopeless, the beggar’s desires have one feature that’s beyond price: they are free and sincere.”
“Only through her can he feel compassion… What if he should lose this one person who binds him to humankind?”
“We put makeup on desolation.” – in re: the advertising industry
I agree with that last one at least. I have been targeted dozens of times for ads on social media demonstrating undergarments into which I could shove copious fat rolls for a smoother appearance under skin-tight dresses. That my goal should be to look better in spandex dresses if I had copious rolls of fat around my middle is indeed desolate.