—She still thinks that I was the one that caused us to split up when we were at Princeton, when it was in fact she that left me! She left me because she preferred to form a couple with a black, a man with a brilliant future ahead of him, a Harvard degree – and black like herself!***
In Karine Tuil’s latest book, ‘Frivolity’***, The question of identity is the very lynchpin of existence, from the very first quote proposed by Tuil:
—Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Freedom, equality, brotherhood), promote all of these values, but sooner or later, the problem of identity appears.
—Aimé CÉSAIRE, Negro I am, Negro I will remain. Interviews with Françoise Vergès***
The question of identity is the underlying link as we follow this intricately interlocking story between the different protagonists:
—Osman Diboula, a black social worker who had become a political adviser to the president following his role in intervening for the families of two adolescents during and after the riots following their accidental electrocution whilst hiding from the police.
—Romain Roller a career soldier, who had known Osman when he was a troubled adolescent and with his help had been saved by the army and is now coming back from Afghanistan after a traumatic tour of duty.
—Marion Decker, a journalist from a poor background and the second wife of the richissime François Vely.
—François Vely, a rich business man whose Father, Paul Levy, after fighting in the resistance and being deported changed his name from Levy to Vely:
—At the end of the war,Paul Levy had changed the order of the letters in his name and removed his biblical Christian name in order to improve his integration into French society, his assimilation, to reinvent himself maybe, so what? My identity is purely political, Levy/Vely liked to repeat. Paul Vely the great conscience of the left, the committed intellectual, that was important, that defined him far more than the identity that had been pressed on him, like a mask whose contact he had never accepted.***
Through events of considerable violence each of these characters has his identity questioned and we are shown the difficulty and pain involved in changing one’s identity.
—Vely, who due to his wealth finds himself out of touch with his own image and the effects of negative publicity on his life. He then discovers that he cannot escape his Judaity.
—Roller who through the post traumatic stress after his return from Afghanistan is unable to go on mission and loses his identity as a soldier.
—Decker, who has left the poverty of her adolescence and is married to Vely, is torn by a relationship with Roller which would lead her back to a life closer to the insecurity of her youth.
—Diboula who falls out of favour with the President and discovers the drug of politics, its mechanisms and also that with social mobility there is no going back:
—Don’t believe that loyalty is the rule in politics. It’s the exception. The rule is betrayal…all the art of politics was to create power relationships to protect you from betrayal.***
The book takes all of these questions and bringing these characters all together shakes out four solutions: the end of frivolity.
First Published in French as “L’insouciance” in 2016 by Gallimard
*** My translation