In the final pages of her recent autobiographical novel The Double Life of Liliane, Lily Tuck seems to tell us how we should be reading her book. She is writing about her university days as a student of the literary theorist Paul de Man. One day in class, de Man says:
Autobiography occurs when it involves two persons building their identities through reading each other. This requires a form of substitution – exchanging the writing “I” for the written “I” – and this also implies that both persons are at least as different as they are the same…In this way, I consider autobiography as an act of self-restoration in which the author recovers the fragments of his or her life into a coherent narrative.
The Double Life of Liliane (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2015) is a coming-of-age story of the author’s childhood and youth, ending while Liliane/Lily is still a college student. Born in Paris just before the Second World War to German parents who had both left their Jewish roots behind them, Liliane is precocious, observant, and skeptical – and she has decided at an early age that she wants to become a writer. At the outbreak of the War, when the French government sends her father, Rudy Solmsen, to a detention camp, Lilian and her mother Irène flee to Lima, Peru, where some of Rudy’s family lives. After the war, Rudy (who eventually joined the French Foreign Legion in Algeria as a pathway to French citizenship), Irène, and Liliane reunite briefly in Paris, but the parents soon divorce and Irène takes Liliane to New York City, where Irène will eventually remarry. The double life referred to in the title, while vaguely referencing the quote from Paul de Man, refers to the transatlantic life that Liliane leads as she shuttles between her parents (Rudy becomes a prominent movie producer in Rome). Read more