The Identity Man

Andrew Klavan joins Frontpage to discuss his new thriller.

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Andrew Klavan, the author of such classic suspense novels as True Crime, filmed by Clint Eastwood, Don’t Say a Word, filmed starring Michael Douglas, and Empire of Lies. He’s been nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award five times and has won it twice.  He is a contributing editor to City Journal and his essays and commentary have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and elsewhere.  He also writes and appears in the bi-weekly satire video Klavan on the Culture for PJTV. His new adult thriller is The Identity Man.

FP: Andrew Klavan, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Congratulations on the release of your new thriller.

Tell us what it is about and what inspired you to write it.

Klavan: Thanks Jamie.

The Identity Man is about a fugitive murder suspect who is given a chance to start his life over:  a new face, a new name, new records.  It's a thriller about a guy trying to find redemption in a corrupt and dangerous world.  The idea first came to life for me during a visit I took to New Orleans, about a year after Katrina.  I was given a tour, talked to some of the people.  And of course, I quickly realized that the media narrative--that this disaster was somehow about race--black and white--was utter nonsense.  And I started to think about this idea we've been sold these last forty years--the idea that our identity is inevitably wrapped up with our race and with racial politics--and that sort of intersected with other questions in my own life:  how free are you to define who you are?  How trapped are you in the circumstances of your birth?  It's the great American question, in some ways:  can you ever be who you feel you were made to be?  So I just decided to take a guy with a completely blank slate and set him down in the most corrupt city in America, and ask myself:  what happens now?  I think it turned out to be a very cool story.

FP: Why do you think the Left derives so much strength from engendering the idea that our identity is inevitably wrapped up with our race and with racial politics?

Klavan: The Left establishes what I'll call Grievance Power Bases and it does this by continually conflating ideas and behaviors with group identities.  It's a form of racism that trumpets itself as the answer to racism.  So a guy knocks a girl up and dumps her and the Left says, "Well, that's because you're black and oppressed and anyone who holds you personally responsible is a racist."  And the guy says, "Hey, that's better than paying child support!  And yeah, now I think of it, I am oppressed."  And of course it ends up encouraging the worst and most self-destructive behavior possible in the group involved, whether that's blacks or Muslims or gays or whatever.

Now, please don't get me wrong:  the reason this technique has gained such traction is because of a true history of institutionalized anti-black racism in America.  But now that that institutionalized racism is gone, the Left keeps the game going by targeting individuals and off-hand remarks.  Which will go on forever because there will always be racist individuals and always be words that you can twist to sound racist and so on.  The real answer to racism is for the law to treat each person according to the content of his character - his ideas and behaviors - rather than the color of his skin.  After that, you stand on your own.

FP: This narrative that the Left nurtures is very much related to why we are so handicapped in our ability to protect our civilization from radical Islam, right?

Klavan: Absolutely.  While the human history of religious oppression should always make us a bit extra careful when criticizing someone's faith, a religion is in the end a system of ideas, not a race or identity, and wholly open to criticism.  Of course Muslims can be good and decent people and of course Islam can be practiced in a non-harmful way, but when you look at the current state of Islam, the institutionalized oppression and violence world-wide, the denigration of that half of the human race who are female, the frankly stated goal of destroying free institutions and replacing them with the travesty of sharia law - damn straight it can be criticized.  I personally believe the shrill accusation of Islamophobia is an attempt to obscure the fact that multi-culturalism, and the pernicious underlying creed of relativism, came crashing down with the towers on 9/11.

FP: Tell us what is so beautiful about America and its values that gives humans a great chance to be who they feel they were made to be. The chances of a person reaching this kind of self awareness and fulfillment is not as great, to say the least, in North Korea, Saudi Arabia or Castro’s Cuba. While the Left will foam at the mouth at your answer, shed some light on why this is the case and why American civilization might just be worth defending.

Klavan: It has to do very much with what we're talking about:  grouping people according to ideas and behaviors - the content of their characters - rather than the color of their skin.  America is an exceptional nation because it's founded on a set of ideas and, in theory and pretty much in practice, all you have to do to become an American is live here and ascribe to those ideas.  It's the political realization of the Christian doctrine that there is no Greek or Jew, male or female, only one race in God.  But it's more than that - it's more than that the country is based on a set of ideas - it's that the ideas themselves are good and true.

In math, they have what are called axioms, propositions that can't be proved, that must be accepted - a plus b equals b plus a, for instance.  Without accepting those axioms on faith, the entire edifice of math collapses.  You might say they are truths that are held to be self-evident.  Well, the truths we hold to be self-evident - equality before the law, that our freedoms are given us by our creator not by government, that among them are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - these are truths indeed, the human axioms.

Anyone who wants to seize the power to force us to conform to their idea of goodness, justice and equality will hate those axioms and attack them - usually by attacking the individuals who set them down or who defend them.  These attackers - these leftists - they think they are attacking the foundation of the western edifice, which they despise, but in fact they are attacking the human project itself.

FP: What are your thoughts on Obama?

Klavan: You know, people in the arts - people like me - have been making a big fuss about how conservatives should pay more attention to the culture because culture creates and foreshadows politics, not the other way around.  Well, to my mind, Barack Obama is a perfect example of what we're saying.  He's a pure cultural construct.  He has no ideas of his own, only the image of America given to him by the art and media and academic cultures:  America, to paraphrase Shelby Steele, as a sin needing to be redeemed.  So his intellectual life was created by the culture.  But also, he became expert in allowing people to project their yearnings for redemption and renewal onto him, their imaginations, which are likewise shaped by culture.  If our culture hadn't created Obama's image before he arrived in person, the people would not have looked at this inexperienced, clueless and I suspect narcissistically empty man and seen the second coming.

FP: We see some dark times ahead with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran etc. planning an attack on Israel. What are your thoughts on what Israel faces and how it must best defend itself?

Klavan: In all honesty, my heart misgives me.  Our elites and culture-makers have managed to convince even American Jews themselves that their virtue lies in condemning the only free nation in a desert of oppression, that to criticize a religion - Islam - currently cancerous with violence and hatred is some sort of phobia, that to describe what is right in front of their eyes is some kind of sin.  Whenever reality is outlawed - whether by force of arms or cultural decree - the Jews are in danger.  And should the disaster come, the very collaborators who let it happen - all the gibbering Jimmy Carters who set it loose - will suddenly look at the millions of Jewish dead and say, "How awful, but it wasn't our fault.  That wasn't what we intended at all."  I haven't given up hope - Israel is a strong nation and America may be only one election away from giving her its full support again - but it's currently a case where the moral world has been turned on its head, and we need to turn it back before it's too late.

FP: What do you like watching on television? What do you read for news and political commentary?

Klavan: This is a golden age of fiction television, as I've said again and again.  The proliferation of channels, and the mistreatment of movie screenwriters that has sent them looking for work on the small screen have combined to give us shows that are almost as good as the novels of old.  Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men...  this is great, deep, rich stuff.  Even the network shows - Blue Bloods is a favorite - are better written than most movies.

For commentary - I'm addicted to commentary - Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, Krauthammer, Mark Steyn...  I mean, when I compare these guys to the people on the Left, the Krugmans and Dowds and Frank Riches, I'm almost embarrassed for the opposition.  We have thinkers and writers and polemicists, they have name-callers and tantrum-throwers and liars.  We really need our columnists to tie one hand behind their backs to make the argument fair. 

FP: You have a black belt in Karate. Share with us how you became interested in Karate, who trained you and how you ended up getting your black belt. Tell us also what Karate has brought into your life. Also, have you ever had to use Karate on the street or in a bar fight or whatnot? And if, let’s say, jihadists tried to harm you in hand-to-hand combat, would you stand a good chance of fighting them off?

Klavan: Ha! I used to get into a lot of fights as a school kid - an absurd number of fights - but that was a long time ago and I haven't lifted a hand in anger in thirty years.  Oh, now that you've asked me the question, all these incidents come to mind:  I chased off some creeps who were mugging a drunk once and I've stood between some very large, angry fellows and played the peacemaker.  And yes, I do have a black belt in kenpo karate and I've done enough sparring to feel I could still duke it out if I had to.  I did karate for a while many years ago, and then when my son took it up, I joined him and earned my black belt and then stopped because I was getting injured too much.  But really, I'm a writer, not a fighter.  I know all of us guys romanticize violence, and I'm no exception, but the truth is, grown-ups shouldn't hit people if they can help it at all.  They really shouldn't.  Read a book instead.

FP: Can you tease us a bit about what you character confronts and what some of the themes are? Wet our appetite a bit as we head to the bookstores or to to buy this thriller.

Klavan: Well, let me put it this way.  When I was recording the audiobook of The Identity Man, I had a chance to get a more objective view of it and, I tell you the truth, I blushed to hear how politically incorrect the book was.  My goal really from the start of my career has been to write bullet-fast thrillers that are nonetheless novels about the human condition and our times.  This is a story about race, racial politics, identity and redemption, a book that explores what I believe to be the great American question:  how free are we to redefine ourselves, how much of our identity is ours to invent?  If you look at some great American stories you can see how this idea changes over time.  In The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow there's a bold, almost strident belief in American reinvention.  Then look at The Godfather some years later and reinvention has become a tragic impossibility.  Today we have Mad Men, in which reinvention is looked on as a crime, an ad man's scam.  The concept in The Identity Man is different than all of these and I think it's worth exploring.

FP: Have you accomplished a lot with your life that you have wanted to? Do you feel that you have invented your own identity and been able to fulfill much of what you wanted? What dreams and goals do you still have?

Klavan: I feel ridiculously blessed.  When I look back to where I started - so unhappy, so twisted and depressed as a young man - and I see myself today, joyful and productive, doing the work I love, living with the woman I've loved for 30 years, I'm genuinely filled with gratitude - for the people who've helped me and the God who dispatched them to my rescue when hope seemed lost.  That said, I feel I have a couple of big statements still to make, a couple of big stories still to tell -- I feel I'm on the cusp of my best work -- and I feel the pressure of time very deeply, the fear I won't get it all down on the page before the Big Barman calls "Time."  But there's no help for that.  It's just the suspense of living.  All I can do is keep going forward, God leading, me singing my song.

FP: Andrew Klavan, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

As the editor of, I encourage all of our readers to buy Andrew Klavan's new thriller immediately by clicking here. It will be one of the best decisions you made in 2010!