French bestseller Tuil makes her U.S. debut with a slick tale about a high-powered New York lawyer whose past catches up with him.
In Paris, where his Tunisian parents immigrated in the 1960s, his name was Samir Tahar, until constant rejections from French law firms despite his brilliant grades led him to shorten his first name to Sam and allow a prospective employer to think he was of North African Jewish, rather than Muslim, descent. Some 20 years later, Sam Tahar is a partner in an A-list Manhattan firm, married to the daughter of “one of the richest men [who's very Jewish] in the U.S.” But he’s still nursing the wounds inflicted by a torrid law school love triangle, which ended when Nina chose fellow student Samuel over Samir. So when Nina calls him (goaded by Samuel, whose motivation isn’t very convincing), Samir endangers his carefully constructed life by persuading her to move to New York as his mistress. Left disconsolate and impoverished in Paris, Samuel finally writes his big novel and becomes a literary star just as Samir’s life implodes after his half brother, François, tracks him down in Manhattan. Tuil, who has published nine novels in France, seems to intend commentary on the quicksands of modern identity, the perils of love, and the post-9/11 political situation, as Samir becomes entangled in the tentacles of the Patriot Act. What she’s written, however, is a standard page-turner, propelled by some seriously breathless prose, about a man on the make undone by his own weaknesses and capricious twists of fate. Samir and Samuel are both self-pitying whiners who treat Nina like a trophy, and it’s disturbing that a book set in the early 21st century gives its major female characters no occupations other than wife or sexual object. The tentatively hopeful ending would work better if we cared more about any of these shallow people.
Hard to believe this glib piece of work was a Prix Goncourt finalist.