After taking a break from book blogging due to my summer vacation I am back with a new review and it’s one that I am very excited about! “Identitti” by Mithu Sanyal is a contemporary German novel that negotiates issues like identity, academia and sense of self – and the best thing about it: It actually got translated to English and was published by Astra House this week🎉
I’m so excited about this because finally one of the amazing contemporary German books that I’ve read is available in a language that most of you can also read. It’s about damn time (as Lizzo would say) that something like this happens.
“Identitti” has been inspired by the case of Rachel Dolezal. However, Sanyal’s novel takes place in the Western German academic sphere and gives an intelligent and fun commentary on the current state of academia, debate culture and politics of identity in Germany.
The protagonist of the “Identitti” is Nivedita, a part Indian, part Polish blogger and student living in Düsseldorf. When it becomes public that her adored Postcolonial Theory professor Saraswati, an intellectual icon, is white and not Indian as she had claimed Nivedita’s world falls apart. Soon a heated debate about Saraswati emerges on Twitter and in the academic sphere and Nivedita finds herself under fire when an interview with her becomes public (recorded prior to the Saraswatigate) in which she defends her professor. The following events lead Nivedita to question not only Saraswati but also her own sense of identity.
The reader accompanies Nivedita on her reflections on her past and through her conversations with Saraswati and the goddess Kali. “Identitti” is not only about Nivedita and her negotiations of identity or about the scandal surrounding Saraswati (or Saraswhitey as she is soon nicknamed on Twitter) and it is also an intelligent and satirical take on theory, academia and online debate culture.
One fantastic aspect of the book that really makes it stand out is how Sanyal incorporated quotes and tweets from real life people. She asked not only researchers and journalists but also activists of feminist and antiracist communities to write tweet in response to the events of her novel. These short texts appear throughout the novel just like Nivedita’s posts on her blog “Identitti”. This is a great idea because it not only adds an extra bit of reality to the emerging Twitter debate about Saraswati’s brownfacing but also makes the book so much more tangible and such fun to read.
The incorporation of references and theories throughout the novel brought me great joy because they reflected a lot of topics that play a role in my life as a student. Personally, I also loved Sanyal’s portrayal of the Western German academic sphere as it’s one that I’m familiar with. However, my experience as a white student is of course a very different one than Niveditas. Nevertheless, I could relate to the novel so much because it takes place in academic contexts that I know, cities that I work in and even mentions the university I’m currently studying at. I hardly ever find that type of representation in literature or pop culture. So it made me really happy.
One thing that really annoyed me about the novel was Saraswati – which I suppose is also partially the point of her character. Her self-righteousness was at times infuriating. The ending of the novel creates a connection to real events and things happening in our world which is a trend that I’ve seen in many books and don’t always enjoy. But it felt very fitting and appropriate for this novel.
I enjoyed reading „Identitti“ a lot! It was the first book in a while that made me neglect my sleep schedule. And I am so, so glad that it got translated to English and Sanyal’s witty words and interesting take on contemporary German academia, culture and identity politics will be available to more readers.
Does “Identitti” sound like a novel that you’d enjoy?
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