Advertisement
Books

Identitti review: A highly original take on the perils of idolising your heroes

In Identitti, Mithu Sanyal explores academic hypocrisy, identity politics and white saviourism in this satirical, bold debut

Identitti, Mithu Sanyal’s dynamic and ambitious debut novel, delivers a bold satire of our digital existence. Set in and around the campus of a modern-day university in Düsseldorf, this story tracks the thorny revelations of blogger and postgraduate student Nivedita, known by her punning pen name @Identitti. She discovers that her supervisor, Saraswati, an internationally renowned professor of post-colonial studies, is in fact a white woman pretending to be Indian. Understandably, uproar ensues. Unfortunately, Nivedita has recently praised Saraswati in a radio interview that goes viral following the public exposure of the professor’s deception. Nivedita reassesses her relationship with Saraswati, and with her own sense of self. Both face scrutiny from the student body and the online world. 

Sanyal has made the metatextual move to weave tweets and critical theory into the narrative of her novel. Surreally, certain statements were written by real-life intellectual Twitterati, invited to comment by Sanyal on her fictional scenario. Blog posts also feature, crafted by Nivedita, detailing her intimate conversations with the Hindu goddess Kali, who often accompanies her, proffering droll guidance and wisecracks.  

Subscribe to The Big Issue

Support us

Take a print or digital subscription to The Big Issue and provide a critical lifeline to our work.

Epiphanies along the way cause Nivedita to consider questions of identity and forgiveness. As the mixed-race child of Polish and Indian parents, she longs for a feeling of belonging in a German society that has given her limited role models. Her confrontations with Saraswati delve into the complexities of having been empowered and nurtured by a mentor who has caused such harm. As Saraswati’s persona unfurls, Sanyal interrogates academic hypocrisy, constructions of race, white saviourism and the perils of idolising one’s heroes. 

This novel is wittily translated by Alta L Price, who captures the many strands of Sanyal’s linguistic verve. In Identitti, Sanyal has fashioned a highly original work that encapsulates the polyphony of digitalised debate. Her fiction allows space for different realities to co-exist – and Sanyal delights in leaving any final judgements at the reader’s discretion.

Identitti

Identitti by Mithu Sanyal, translated by Alta L Price, is out now (V&Q Books, £12.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

Annie Hayter is a writer and poet

Advertisement
Advertisement

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Advertisement

Every copy counts this Christmas

Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Christmas.

Recommended for you

Read All
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Christmas message from the stars
Science

Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Christmas message from the stars

Our Daily Bread: Father Alex Frost says it's not just prayer we need to tackle poverty
poverty

Our Daily Bread: Father Alex Frost says it's not just prayer we need to tackle poverty

Top 5 books about the power of music, chosen by Adriana Barton
Books

Top 5 books about the power of music, chosen by Adriana Barton

Didn't Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham: Utterly alive
Books

Didn't Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham: Utterly alive

Most Popular

Read All
Here's when and where nurses are going on strike
1.

Here's when and where nurses are going on strike

Pattie Boyd: 'I was with The Beatles and everything was fabulous'
2.

Pattie Boyd: 'I was with The Beatles and everything was fabulous'

Here's when people will get the additional cost of living payment
3.

Here's when people will get the additional cost of living payment

Why do people hate Matt Hancock? Oh, let us count the ways
4.

Why do people hate Matt Hancock? Oh, let us count the ways