cover image The Double Life of Liliane

The Double Life of Liliane

Lily Tuck. Atlantic Monthly, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2402-9

National Book Award winner Tuck (The News from Paraguay) blends history, biography, memoir, and fiction in this gleefully chaotic metanarrative, which closely parallels the author’s own life. Tracking the emotional and intellectual development of its protagonist, Liliane, who is born in France in the 1930s but raised largely in the U.S., the novel encompasses many of the early 20th century’s most monumental—and most horrific—developments. Sections centering on Liliane’s parents and family members offer insights into the tribulations faced by European Jews during World War II, as well as the experiences of migrants to the U.S. in the years during and after the war. Along the way, the novel, restless and roving, delivers reports on Liliane’s impressive family history (celebrity relatives include Moses Mendelssohn and Mary, Queen of Scots), while mapping the various places her peripatetic clan has called home (Peru, Italy, and Tanzania among others). While stretches of the novel verge on seeming crammed and distracted, Tuck succeeds in balancing the bounty of the information she relays with playful, buoyant prose and poignant scenes—particularly those between Liliane and her mother, Irène—that quicken the heart. Of her mother’s scent, Liliane thinks at one point, “Joy, the most expensive perfume in the world; an ounce consists of ten thousand jasmine flowers and three hundred roses.” In Tuck’s prose—messy, lively, dizzy, happy—one gets a contagious sense of fun that she has transmuting life into words. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt Literary Agency. (Sept.)