This Strange Eventful History

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Product Details
$29.99  $27.89
W. W. Norton & Company
Publish Date
6.25 X 9.3 X 1.35 inches | 1.65 pounds

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About the Author
Claire Messud is the author of six works of fiction. A recipient of Guggenheim and Radcliffe fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she teaches at Harvard University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
It's almost unbearably moving, wise and full of the most gorgeous prose.-- "The Guardian"
A choral mural of sweep and scope that knows just when to render the historical personal, Claire Messud's epic is above all a wise, wary, yet love-struck chronicle of how the selves we strive to make become 'colonized' by family.--Joshua Cohen, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Netanyahus
This Strange Eventful History is an astonishment--rich and luminous, dense with life, wide with wisdom. Messud's view of the Cassar family--and we suspect as we read it, her own--is as emotionally precise and imaginatively capacious as her rendering of the history that shapes their fortunes. Rarely has the private magic of familial love been so fully realized in a public act of literature. Just exquisite.--Ayad Akhtar, author of Homeland Elegies, a New York Times Top Ten book
What an extraordinary experience This Strange Eventful History gives to readers. It takes them on artful and masterfully orchestrated grand tours: of the world as it spins toward and away from World War II into nearly our own time, of three generations of the Cassar family as it concentrates and disperses and arrays itself across the spinning world, of the individual family members as they each experience in their own indelible ways how history enfolds and excludesus, how time--implacable and indecipherable--befalls us, and how love may possibly be the only true human masterpiece, elusive as it so often and tragically proves to be. Claire Messud captures the heartbreaking paradoxes of being in our world and in ourselves yet feeling separated from both with a precision and acuity like no other writer I know.--Paul Harding, author of the Booker Prize Finalist This Other Eden
A tour de force, This Strange Eventful History is one of those rare novels which a reader doesn't merely read but lives through with the characters. Call it the War and Peace of the 20th and 21st century; call it The Long View of a family migrating through many borders, worlds, and eras; call it anything and we fall short. Claire Messud is a magnificent storyteller, and the novel, an all-encompassing history of many human hearts and any human heart, will linger and haunt us as the best and the most heartbreaking memory.--Yiyun Li, author of the PEN/Faulkner Award-winning The Book of Goose
There are few genres more enjoyable than the sprawling, decade-spanning family saga (especially in the hands of a brilliant novelist). Claire Messud's latest novel tells the story of an Algerian-born French family from 1940 through 2010 as they navigate personal and political upheaval...Sold.-- "Literary Hub"
Deeply intertwined with the sociopolitical upheaval of the 20th century, and inspired by Messud's own family history, this sweeping narrative is as intimate as it is profound.-- "Oprah Daily"
[Claire Messud] paints compelling portraits of internal conflicts and tangled relationships, dropping along the way tantalizing references to crucial events that will be clarified later, in a rich narrative that defies summary...[her] gimlet eye and quietly masterful way with words make every character and incident gripping. Brilliant and heart-wrenching; Messud is one of contemporary literature's best.-- "Kirkus (starred review)"
[Messud] draws from her own family history for this exquisite multigenerational saga of the Cassars, a pied-noir clan exiled from Algeria by the country's 1954-62 war of independence...In her characteristically artful prose, Messud burrows inside the hearts and minds of her key players, bringing to their struggles and self-deceptions a deep-veined empathy made even more remarkable by how close she is to the story. This is an astonishment.-- "Publishers Weekly (starred review)"
Claire Messud has transformed three generations of her family's story into a tour de force in This Strange Eventful History...all around them are the upheavals of the 20th century, but though Messud is working on a grand canvas, her skill is in miniature. History is dazzling in its fine-tuned character studies...all beautifully realized. This is a pointillist novel, profound in its portrayal of strains, bonds, and heartbreak.--Taylor Antrim "Vogue"
A novelist of exquisite artistry and insight draws on her own family history in this gorgeously realized, acutely sensitive, cosmopolitan, century-spanning, multigenerational saga...Messud captures life's wheels-within-wheels on every incandescent page.--Donna Seaman "Booklist (starred review)"
Tolstoy famously wrote in Anna Karenina that "happy families are all alike," but "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Sometimes, though, unhappiness has to do with what is universal, and this is what Messud is especially adept at conveying...In writing this breathtaking ode--and lament--of a novel, Messud honors her ancestors by interrogating the circumstances that shaped them and the questions that plagued them.--Leigh Habor "Boston Globe"
Claire Messud is an author who perfectly pairs scale and intimacy in her prose. Inspired in part Messud's family history, This Strange Eventful History is an epic cross-generational story that follows a pieds-noirs family separated in the chaos of World War II and made adrift without a homeland after Algerian independence. The novel's ingenuity and ambitious scope can't be underestimated; This Strange Eventful History is nothing less than a literary event, sure to surprise and delight at every turn.-- "Chicago Review of Books"
Claire Messud's profound and exacting new novel is an epic involving several generations of a diasporic family on a volatile earth--a fictionalised version, as the prologue tells us, of her own family's wanderings, an attempt at the imaginative retrieval of beloved persons and memories lost in the ruins of time.-- "Literary Review"
[Messud's] novels frequently feature characters who are adrift and unmoored, with complex lineages that scan as vaguely foreign wherever they are. We watch others try to discipline those unruly identities, awkwardly forcing their historical baggage into cramped boxes. In This Strange Eventful History, Messud lets the messiness of reality overflow the neatness of fiction, as if in defiance of this tendency. The novel brims with details, many likely gleaned from a fifteen-hundred-page family history, titled "Everything That We Believed In," that her paternal grandfather left behind. Messud has used that document to craft something more interesting than a historical novel: a novel about history and the stories we tell ourselves about the role we play in it--Jennifer Wilson "The New Yorker"
Ambitious in sweep and scope, [This Strange Eventful History] spans seven decades from 1940 to 2010, and chronicles in a stunning, meticulous prose three generations of the Cassar family as they whirl about the globe...Messud insightfully explores the complex themes of conflicting claims of identity, the trauma of rootlessness, the power of family secrets to corrupt and corrode across generations, the brutal legacy of colonialism, how memory and denial shape us, how family history and world events coincide and collide...Messud, often praised for her ability to capture the tiniest, most telling details of her characters' lives and environments, here comprehensively portrays her own characters' seven decades...Throughout her novel, Claire Messud allows us to share in François's expansive intellectual inquisitiveness, proving in her lyrical, thought-provoking prose that she is very much her fictional father's daughter.--Jenny McPhee "Airmail"
A meticulous tale about one family, rich in historical detail. Recommended for historical fiction readers who enjoy epic family histories and cerebral characters.--Kristen Stewart "Library Journal"
This Strange Eventful History relates the story of the Cassars, a family of French Algerian origin who were displaced after World War II and Algerian independence. Author of The Emperor's Children, The Woman Upstairs and The Burning Girl, Claire Messud crafts complex characters and builds tension by exploring the intensity of their emotions. This family saga has the added intrigue of being inspired in part by a family memoir written by Messud's grandfather.-- "BookPage (starred review)"
Claire Messud turns her family's history into a masterpiece...This Strange Eventful History is a novel of such cavernous depth, such relentless exploration, that it can't help but make one realize how much we know and how little we confess about our own families. I strove to withhold judgment, to exercise a little skeptical decorum, but I couldn't help finishing each chapter in a flush of awe.--Ron Charles "Washington Post"
Readers of Claire Messud's other superbly written novels will recognize the agile precision of her prose in her newest one...After a prologue citing her new novel's sources in her own family history, the narrative moves along from 1940 to 2010, across three generations and five points of view, channeling the intimacy of fiction...Each section is absorbing...As the book moves over seven decades, our sympathies are dispersed--no single character owns the story and no one crisis governs the plot; our eye is on the group. It's a risky but solid structure, ambitiously packed with material. What's striking is the way Messud manages to let time's passage itself supply great feeling...How attached I had become to this family, how mysteriously resonant my time with them had been.--Joan Silber "New York Times Book Review"
Messud's strange and eventful novel leaps across space and time occasionally and subversively, including episodes that reveal the larger backdrop against which the lives of her characters take shape. Throughout, Messud seems to be transmitting a message to her readers about our contemporary relationship with stories: As our understanding of history becomes more complicated and nuanced, so too must the stories we tell about the past, and the way we tell them.--Tope Folarin "The Atlantic"
[Messud] is a skilled prose stylist. One of her signature moves is a reliance on long, flowing, perfectly composed sentences filled with parallel constructions, perhaps an analogue to the flow of history...Messud writes beautifully about the toll of dementia and decrepitude, and how life's challenges can suddenly widen or bridge emotional rifts...As she navigates her own complex, beclouded legacy, Messud's generosity of spirit prevails. "Sometimes we feel alone, '" her alter ego, 7-year-old Chloe, tells herself, wise beyond her years, "but we are always more closely connected than we think."--Julia M. Klein "Los Angeles Times"
[This Strange Eventful History] is slow and cumulative, skillfully building to a low but steady boil while delivering quiet, elliptical moments that nevertheless linger in the mind...[Messud's novel] is a kind of epic of inaction, and while it finely illustrates the predicament of the diasporic pieds-noirs, the novel also possesses a broader generational relevance.--Sam Sacks "Wall Street Journal"
Based on Messud's own family journey, this sprawling saga reaches from 1940s French Algeria to modern-day Connecticut, illuminating the toll of war, displacement and one shocking secret on successive generations of a clan buffeted by history. Evocative and eye-opening.--Kim Hubbard "People Magazine"
This Strange Eventful History is richly textured with a diverse highlight reel of the 20th century: French and Algerian politics, Cuban night life in the early 1950s, the global impact of the aluminum and steel industries... But perhaps the most striking aspect of this novel is how Messud conveys loneliness in its many forms. There is an apartness within each of these characters even as they are tightly knotted to each other's lives... [A] masterfully written novel.--Carol Iaciofano Aucoin "WBUR"
This Strange Eventful History is very much a midlife novel, a work reflecting the sudden knowledge of how swiftly one reality cedes to another... Its effects cumulate, each scene enriching the one before it, the characters with their idiosyncratic delusions and habits and yearnings gradually acquiring the dimensions of full human beings much like the impossible and precious people we live with every day... This novel that, when summarized, seems to be about the smallest of things ends up being about everything.--Laura Miller "Slate"
Claire Messud's sweeping novel borrows from her own 'Strange Eventful History.'... A cosmopolitan, multigenerational story that, paradoxically, sticks close to home... Displacement, both political and personal, is Messud's timely subject here... The novel certainly has the stately sweep and weight of a magnum opus... You have to have lived a while to write, as Messud does here, with such intimate melancholy about how time messes with us all, displacing us from earlier versions of ourselves.--Maureen Corrigan "NPR"
With thrilling, adventurous sentences, Claire Messud leads readers along the elusive edges of life, where family and national histories entwine. Her understanding of the human soul is profound.--Christopher Borrelli "Chicago Tribune"
[A] remarkable experiment in historical fiction... Messud's writing is beautiful on every page of This Strange Eventful History, but it reaches its emotional heights when she describes parental love.... Messud pulls off something rare here: Her ending turns the whole book on its head. She does this through old-school storytelling choices--by following the 'usual rules' of fiction, if you will--but it's a master class nonetheless.--Lily Meyer "The Nation"
This is a novel by a writer I absolutely adore...Gorgeous, lush writing...It's this beautiful book about the wheels within wheels of life...For people looking for a really rich literary novel to get lost in...This Strange Eventful History is your book.--Donna Seaman "PBS Books"
For fans of Messud, whose earlier novels include the bestselling 2006 novel "The Emperor's Children" as well as "The Woman Upstairs," this latest work will be ambrosial, brimming with long passages that attempt to capture the evanescent sensations of life--touch, taste, sounds, smells, the ever-shifting register of light. Others may get lost in dense, descriptive passages that roll on and on, owing a debt to the English modernist writer Virginia Woolf, one of Messud's literary heroes... The book is a masterful achievement, a somber, joyous meditation on the consolations and disappointments of empire, nation, faith and family.--Ann Levin "Associated Press"
Claire Messud's new novel, This Strange Eventful History, is both spacious and distilled, spanning seven decades and multiple continents, told from five points of view in one family, dazzling us with echoing themes, unraveling secrets, and rolling crescendos that peak in a series of finales.--Jane Ciabattari "Literary Hub"
I read an ARC of this enthralling fictionalization of Messud's family history--people wandering the world during much of the 20th century, moving from Algeria to France to North America--and it is quite the story, with a postscript that will smack you on the side of the head and make you re-think everything you just read. I can't recommend this enough.-- "The Millions"
Claire Messud's latest is a masterwork of historical fiction, spanning seven decades in the lives and dramas of one family... It's rich in place and perspective--an immersive, captivating story of love, politics, and entanglement.-- "Bustle"
One of the giants of American fiction... Her latest novel charts a sweeping story about a family of pieds-noirs (people of European descent born in Algeria during French occupation of the country) over the course of seven decades, where each generation influences, and arguably poisons, the next.--James Tarmy "Bloomberg"
[Messud's] beguiling, deftly crafted This Strange Eventful History vaults across seven decades, from World War II to the aughts, prismed through one family's migrations through five continents as they forge a kind of nucleus, a centeredness, that they all may share... This Strange Eventful History moves like a broad river, a Nile or a Mississippi: slow and majestic, rich with the layers of its watershed. It's not a propulsive read, but one to savor, line by line, distilling its mysteries... Messud elevates the personal into the political, her themes spooling out from beneath her sensuous prose. This Strange Eventful History is assuredly her masterpiece.--Hamilton Cain "Minneapolis Star Tribune"
While all publicists praise the authors they represent, Messud's rep caught my attention: He described her book in an email as 'my favorite novel I've worked on in 25 years. (I underlined almost the entire second half of the book and wept like a baby when I finished it.).' OK, I'm in!--Christina Ianzito "AARP Magazine"
There's nothing like a sweeping intergenerational saga, especially when rendered by a master of the craft--and Claire Messud is one of the greats... It's a saga of the highest order, spanning seven decades and almost as many continents, but at its heart it's a delicate study of how our family systems shape our most intimate relationships.--Caroline Goldstein "TheSkimm"
Messud investigates the Cassar family with both intimacy and a broad sweep, traveling across an ever-changing world, whose past conflicts have a profound effect on the world we now see shifting before us... [This Strange Eventful History] is masterful in its handling of time and perspective, a love letter to both the past and literary history, testament to fiction's truth and timelessness. Through her lucid and elegant prose, Messud guides the reader through this complicated, nuanced and riveting generational story.--Jennifer Gilmore "Forward"
The multigenerational saga is as old as The Mahabharata, but contemporary authors still put their own spins on the genre. An erudite example is This Strange Eventful History, Claire Messud's epic recounting of seven decades of a pied-noir family... Messud's chronicle of one family's history, the political events that shape them, and 'these strange, beautiful, appalling times' in which they live is as fine a family saga as one will read.--Michael Magras "Shelf Awareness (starred review)"
The big questions are here, about family and colonialism and grief. But the real promise of a 425-page family epic is that it will provide an emotional punch, too. On that, it delivers... The idea that literature itself can offer absolution may be as quaint and passé these days as the Great American Novel, but Messud's steady belief in it is intoxicating... Similar to one character's 'beautiful French, like his cravat, somewhat old-fashioned, but so elegant, ' her style comes to seem like a purposeful constraint... it's hard not to be hypnotized.--Emma Alpern "New York Magazine"
The always incredible Claire Messud's own history helped inspire this engrossing story, which follows a complicated family--as if there were any other kind--across decades and around the world, as legends are made, secrets are buried, and truths come out in the most unexpected of ways. It's a touching, skillfully crafted work that reminds us of the ongoing stories of which we're all a part.--Emily Burack and Adam Rathe "Town & Country"