The Art of Losing

Farrar. May 2021. 448p. tr. from French by Frank Wynne. ISBN 9780374182304. $28. F
Both packed and propulsive, this stunning multigenerational tale originating in the Algerian War of Independence offers a necessary history lesson (without feeling like one), important context regarding the consequences of colonialism, and concise portraiture of the personal struggle for identity. In the 1950s, when Berber villagers in Algeria’s Kabylia region are caught between the French overlords and the emerging National Liberation Front, tightrope-walking efforts by leading resident Ali get him branded a traitor and force his family to flee to an unwelcoming France. Later, Ali’s granddaughter Naïma—the story’s catalyst—is exasperated when she’s lambasted for forgetting a country she’s never known, yet fearful of being lumped together with terrorists. After reluctantly traveling to Algeria on behalf of the art gallery where she works, Naïma realizes that her journey of self-discovery is just starting. Her discomfort as a woman in Algeria (“The Islamists win again,” says a friend there), paired with her observation that al-Qaeda and ISIS “want dark-skinned people to find life in Europe impossible, so that they will join them,” show how complicated that journey will be.
VERDICT Highly recommended; from a multi-award–winning French novelist.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing