This Strange Eventful History

Norton. May 2024. 448p. ISBN 9780393635041. $29.99. F
Messud’s (Kant’s Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write) newest is a semi-autobiographical novel of her own family history, an epic generational story that sprawls across the world and from the 1940s to 2010. The fictional Cassars were what the French call “pieds-noirs,” ethnically French but born and living in Algeria, until the upheaval of World War II and Algeria’s independence from France left them without a homeland. Each chapter is part of the larger picture of the Cassar family history, told from one character’s perspective. The anxiety and emotional turmoil the whole family feels about no longer having a home is a thread woven throughout the novel, forcing each character to grapple with where they think they belong in the world. Much of the narrative revolves around the daily lives of different generations of Cassars. Some events, such as deaths and marriages, are momentous, but much of the plot is incremental and domestic in nature, and the inner lives of characters are more important than physical action.
VERDICT A meticulous tale about one family, rich in historical detail. Recommended for historical fiction readers who enjoy epic family histories and cerebral characters.
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