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Ron Charles on “This Strange Eventful History”

Claire Messud turns her family’s history into a masterpiece

“This Strange Eventful History” is a novel that’s quilted from scraps of memory treasured in the author’s attic for decades.

By Ron Charles

Claire Messud opens “This Strange Eventful History” with a prologue that announces, “I want to save lives. Or simply: I want to save life.” That may sound pretentious — she’s just a writer, after all — but it’s prophetic, an aspiration wholly borne out by this monumental novel, which is a work of salvage and salvation.

As the title suggests, though, it’s not exactly a novel — or not only a novel. Rather than being cut from whole cloth, “This Strange Eventful History” is quilted from scraps of memory treasured in the author’s attic for decades. To a certain extent, the project began with a 1,500-page memoir written out by Messud’s paternal grandfather, who was born in what was once French Algeria. Now, after a lifetime of reflection, Messud has published a book that imagines how three generations of the Cassar family rode the geopolitical waves from World War II into the 21st century. Read the full review at the Washington Post.

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