Reading books is a singular way to explore some recurrent themes in literature and especially topics that are of particular interest to us. One subject matter that has almost always made me question the world around me and myself at the same time is the ambiguous yet fascinating concept of “identity”. In the light of the various works I found worth examining is In the name of identity written by the French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf as well as the most recently read The lies that bind – rethinking identity a work of the increasingly famous British-Ghanaian writer Kwame Anthony Appiah.
Amin Maalouf’s work is a quest for answers that continuously challenge the widespread assumption that we must have a crafted fixed answer to the question “Where are you from? Interestingly, he starts from his own case as a Lebanese born individual who later became French, speaks Arabic, is Christian and is openly frustrated by the frequent questions he has to deal with: Do you feel more French or Lebanese? Where do you relate to the most? He argues within a series of case demonstrations in the Arab world that identity can not be compartmentalized. He does not mean instead that he carries multiple identities, but rather, that he has one singular identity made up of a mixture of pieces that make him who he is. Ultimately, he defends the idea that it is a concept in constant motion which is reinvented with the changes one encounters in life and thus rejecting the preconceived bias that describes identity as a stationary, motionless, simplistic notion.
What I really liked about his work is the way he draws upon his own experience then expands his examples to people he met through his life, to finish with a vast array of patterns in the world and more particularly in the Arab world where culture has a sacred, untouchable value. These patterns helps us see the bigger picture of how some questions perceived as simplistic and innocent can transform our sense of belonging to community.
When it comes to The lies that bind – rethinking identity, I actually never expected to find so many interesting insights from a book that randomly caught my attention in the Non-Fiction part of my local bookshop. The author similarly explores the different ways in which we have come to perceive identity in a certain way that has prevented us from considering new perspectives. One idea that really struck my attention when he was elaborating on the connection between race and identity in historical frameworks is that “too many people remain attached to a perilous cartography of color”. To him, identity gives us reasons to do things but it also gives others reasons to do to you because it affects the way individuals treat one another. He really emphasized the idea that culture is not a box to be checked on the question of humanity : it is a process we join in living life with others.
Both Amin Maalouf and Kwame Anthony Appiah have explored an increasingly controversial but none the less interesting topic in their own ways. I really enjoyed reading both books but if I had to choose I would say that I preferred In the name of identity, for it gave so many examples that illustrated the reasoning of Amin Maalouf and implicitly challenged my own assumptions
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