Friday, April 1, 2016

The Age of Reinvention by Karine Tuil

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  I found the story itself really interesting.  Sam Tahar is a very successful New York litigator who seems to have it all - great job, rich wife with connections into all aspects of society, plenty of affairs...  The only problem is it is all based on a lie.  Sam is really Samir Tahar - raised a poor Muslim in a Paris slum.  He works hard and does well in law school but when he is unable to get a job, he changes the name on his resume to Sam and is immediately hired by a Jewish lawyer in Paris who assumes he is also Jewish.

Sam lets the assumption continue and, when he is asked to move to New York and open an office there, he carries it further.  He adopts the past of a law school friend, Samuel Baron, who really is Jewish and manages to marry into one of New York's elite Jewish families.

The only thing Samir was unable to take from Samuel was the woman he most wanted, Nina.  Samir and Nina have a brief affair during law school (while Samuel is off burying his parents which tells you a lot about Samir's empathy).  When Samuel returns he is devastated and attempts suicide so Nina chooses him over Samir.  At the start of the book they are barely getting by.  Everything changes when they read about Samir and realize what he has done.  They decide to contact him - Samuel wants to test Nina's resolve.  This ends up having disastrous consequences for all three.  But, surprisingly, though Samir lets his guard down in order to be with Nina, she is not the ultimate cause of his downfall - but I don't want to give the book away so I will not describe the events that lead to his life unravelling (and Samuel's simultaneous rise in fortunes).

What I didn't like about the book was the writing style.  I found it very pompous - one of my pet peeves is footnotes in fiction and these were used liberally.  There were also many passages where alternate thoughts were expressed with back slashes.  I just found it annoying - like the author was attempting to show off her wide vocabulary.  I will give credit to the translator - if the author's annoying pomposity could come through in translation, I think the translator must be top notch.  I don't remember, but I must have heard about this book in the New York Times as it is exactly the kind of writing style the Times always praises; like the book editors must show how smart they are by relating to this "high brow" writing.

In the end I don't strongly recommend this book.  I made it through because I wanted to see how Tahar's life unravelled but I wouldn't say I truly enjoyed the read.

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