Friday, 27 July 2018

Identity Unknown by Karolina Wojciak

Identity Unknown by Karolina Wojciak
Published by Rozpisani in Polish as Tożsamość nieznana in Poland in June 2017. English language translation by Anna Basara published by Karolina Wojciak in February 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Waterstones (unavailable)

WARNING: This story contains graphic content that may be disturbing to some readers, reader discretion is advised.

The bestselling novel by Polish author Karolina Wojciak is now available in English. Two contrasting but mysterious, twisted and touching stories about love, sacrifice and second chances.

After the tragic death of his mother, sixteen-year-old Krystian lives in poverty in Warsaw, Poland, with his violent, alcoholic father. Their fights grow more intense until finally his father throws him out. Homeless and fighting for survival, Krystian has to put aside his sensitive nature and become a criminal.

Lena, after a freshman year spent away from home, returns to the seaside town of Sopot between semesters, convinced that it will be another boring summer with her despotic father, a powerful lawyer. Instead, new friends show her what it feels like to make her own choices.

Can Krystian escape his difficult start in life? Will Lena choose her family or her freedom? Do youthful mistakes mean there’s no chance for a good life?

I didn't realise until I came to write up this review that Identity Unknown is self-published. I love the cover art which is what first attracted me to the novel, and the whole publication is very professional. What let this book down for me though is, unfortunately, Wojciak's writing style. One the one hand, this is a thriller so I expected lots of action which we do get, however I also wanted at least a little description and this is almost completely absent.For example, I have no idea what most of the locations looked like. I also struggled to understand much of the main characters motivation. Identity Unknown is written from three points of view, with two of these - Krystian and Lena - taking it in turns to speak directly to us for the majority of the story. Lena is a spoilt, bratty rich teenager who frequently irritated me with her entitled attitude and complete lack of empathy. Krystian is harder to pin down. He finds himself drawn to a criminal life but, even despite his own experience, seems not to have any understanding of the consequences of his actions. In a lot of ways, I found both as exasperating as each other!

The narrative keeps up a good pace throughout so I easily read the whole book in an afternoon. This isn't an especially pleasant read, but it did keep my attention. There are lots of violent scenes including rapes and child abuse, most of which aren't graphically described but the callousness of most of the characters does make such episodes difficult to stomach. I didn't like the flippant way violence, particularly sexual violence, was often dismissed and grossly sexist remarks don't seem to warrant notice. If I had been reading a fifty-year-old novel, I could have perhaps have understood such attitudes, but instead I felt quite angry. For example, at one point a young girl has been repeatedly sexually assaulted. We learn that she will be put into foster care, at which point Kristian sees fit to tell us that she will get therapy so everything will be okay and that's that. Subject changed!

I think people who like pacy action stories and aren't prone to asking 'how' or 'why' as they read will probably enjoy Identity Unknown. Despite the violence, it is very readable - up until the point where the two stories intersect anyway (After that it does get less believable). I wanted more details though, especially regarding why Krystian and Lena behaved as they did. There's a lot of telling in this book, but not much in the way of showing or explaining so I'd advise  potential readers to go along for the ride, and read fast enough that you don't find yourself questioning the whys!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Karolina Wojciak / Thrillers / Books from Poland


  1. Nice review. It does sound like an interesting but tough read, and definitely sounds way too casual with the sexual assault themes. Yikes! The characters sound tough to relate to as well. Glad it was a fast read though, that's always good!

    1. Interestingly, this is the second Polish book I've read where the attitudes to sexual assault and violence are different. I don't know if it's just chance on the books I chose or something more particularly Polish?

  2. The lack of description would have bothered me. I love being immersed in a new world (or an old one) and having everything mapped out for me. Yes, some is left up to the imagination, but the author has to at least point you in the right direction.

    The sexual assault would bother me, especially if it's not handled well. It should not be something that's causally tossed into a book.

    I don't think this would be a good fit for me!
    𑁋 Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear?

    1. I definitely wanted more detailed descriptions in several places.

  3. Sounds like a interesting premise that needed to be fleshed out more. I also get annoyed when I have to suspend my belief about elements of a book.

    Tori @ In Tori Lex

    1. Yes, it started out believably, but the threads coming finally together didn't work for me.

  4. Polish translated to English books seem to be becoming popular these days. It wouldn't be to my tastes though!

    1. I chose it purely for the Polishness, for my WorldReads, and probably wouldn't have read it had Wojciak been a British or American author. I love that there do seem to be far more books available in translation recently - or maybe I'm just getting better at spotting them