PODCAST

Episode 380: Claire Messud

BY MEGAN LABRISE • July 9, 2024

Claire Messud explores family, love, and morality in 'This Strange Eventful History.'

On this episode of Fully Booked, Claire Messud discusses This Strange Eventful History (Norton, May 14), a critically acclaimed new novel chronicling three generations of a peripatetic Franco Algerian clan—inspired by the author’s own family saga. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “brilliant and heart-wrenching” and Messud “one of contemporary literature’s best.”

Messud is the award-winning author of six works of fiction, including The Woman Upstairs, The Burning Girl, and A Dream Life, as well as the autobiography-in-essays Kant’s Little Prussian Head & Other Reasons Why I Write. She teaches writing at Harvard University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Here’s a bit more from our starred review of This Strange Eventful History:

“Readers of Kant’s Little Prussian Head & Other Reasons Why I Write (2020) will recognize the autobiographical elements in Messud’s novel, but they are less important than the compelling way she has reinvented her family as fully fleshed fictional characters. Gaston and Lucienne Cassar, a French Algerian couple uprooted firstby World War II and then by Algerian independence, embody for their son, François, and daughter, Denise, a loving companionship so total that both children will spend their lives looking for its equal.…Messud portrays the Cassars at key moments in their lives, beginning in Algeria as France falls in June 1940 and ranging across continents and seven decades: Geneva, Toronto, Toulon, Buenos Aires, suburban Connecticut, and New York—wherever their varied fortunes take them,with the author’s fictional stand-in, aspiring writer Chloe, and her sister, Loulou, entering as schoolgirls in 1970s Sydney. 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.…Messud’s gimlet eye and quietly masterful way with words make every character and incident gripping.”

Speaking two months after the publication of This Strange Eventful History, Messud tells us about what it’s like to be on book tour and the warm critical reception the novel received. We talk about the memoir her French Algerian grandfather gifted to her and her sister, how his work inspired her novel, and the fact that we can’t predict how today’s events will be viewed by subsequent generations. She selects a passage from the novel’s prologue to read aloud. We discuss the characters Chloe, a writer born (like Messud) in 1966, and François, Chloe’s father. We consider how local concerns persist in the face of extraordinary world events, families as constellations of caring, why this was the right time for her to write this story, and much more.

Then editors Laura Simeon, Mahnaz Dar, and Laurie Muchnick share their top picks in books for the week.

 

EDITORS’ PICKS:

49 Days by Agnes Lee (Levine Querido)

Bibsy Cross and the Bad Apple by Liz Garton Scanlon, illus. by Dung Ho (Knopf)

Let the Games Begin by Rufaro Faith Mazarura (Flatiron Books)

 

THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS:

The Venture Alchemists: How Big Tech Turned Profits Into Power by Rob Lalka

The Assays of Ata by K.I.S.

 

Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.

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