‘The Double Life of Liliane’ by Lily Tuck

‘The Double Life of Liliane’ by Lily Tuck   (2015) – 238 pages

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‘The Double Life of Liliane’ is a largely autobiographical work by Lily Tuck that also contains many black-and-white pictures of her family and friends during her childhood years, yet on its back cover are the words “A Novel”.  Her life story makes most of our own life stories seem insufferably plain and dull in comparison.

Liliane was born just before World War II, and both of her parents were from Germany.  Her father, being a movie producer, travels with an international set, and he happens to be in France just before the Nazi takeover but without a passport.  This is critical, because he does have Jewish ancestors in his background although they have converted to Lutheranism.  The dancer Josephine Baker helps him get a passport and escape France just before the Nazi takeover.

Liliane’s mother has Jewish relatives in her background also.  She has beauty such that she is often compared to Great Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.  She and Liliane wound up spending the war years in Peru far from Germany.

I had never considered before the plight of the millions of people who had just one Jewish grandparent or great-grandparent.  There must have been all these gradations of Jewishness that would cause widespread fear and panic among the general population.

After the war, Liliane’s father and mother are together for a short time, but then they divorce with the mother and Liliane in New York and the father off producing movies in Italy.  The mother soon remarries.  The double life for Liliane is her cross-Atlantic arrangement set up by her parents.  In an early chapter of the novel, we have 9-year-old Liliane traveling by herself on an airplane from New York to Italy to stay with her father.   In Italy she watches first-hand the fast set of movie stars, directors, producers, and others.

As the novel progresses, the girl Liliane turns into a young woman with adventures of her own.  Through her father she has lunch with the Italian writer Alberto Moravia who relates some of his times while married to the writer Elsa Morante.

Lily Tuck doesn’t overplay her hand by trying to make the events in the novel seem more exciting or glamorous than they really were.  She downplays her childhood experiences if anything, since they are colorful enough as is. This is in contrast to what frequently happens with memoirs.  When someone writes about their own life, they often get so caught up in telling their story that they forget to entertain.  Thus memoirs can be deadly for the reader.

‘The Double Life of Liliane’ is another example of the recent mode of blending fiction with non-fiction on the order of  W. G. Sebald or Karl Ove Knausgaard.  I am somewhat skeptical of the results of this Reality trend, but in ‘The Double Life of Liliane’, the reader is not forgotten.  Even though the story treads very closely to the author’s life, it is told with the zest and creativity of fiction.

Grade:   B+

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4 responses to this post.

  1. I am skeptical of this “autobiographical fiction” genre as well. This one sounds more true to life then some of the others that our out there. Nice review!

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    • Hi Melissa,
      Thank you. Yes, one wonders what are the fictional parts of Lily Tuck’s story that caused her to call it ‘A Novel’. I suspect that this book may be called a novel just because novels sell better than memoirs. But it is well-written for a memoir.

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  2. Very interesting! I love Lily Tuck and have this one on my e-reader, though I haven’t gotten around to it yet. It does look like a very odd, but good book. l have no idea what to make of grainy photos in a book that is supposed to be fiction!

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    • Hi Kat,
      Yes, the pictures are definitely non-fiction even if the rest of the book isn’t. 🙂
      I usually find the pictures in a memoir the most interesting part, and that is somewhat true here also. However, Lily Tuck’s actual life reads almost like a Jackie Collins novel.

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