Citizens of nowhere: This Strange Eventful History, by Claire Messud, reviewed

Any personal history is hard to fictionalise, not least because the story needs to be both universal and unique. Claire Messud manages to find the right balance in her latest novel, reconstructing her family’s past in vivid episodes that open a multitude of windows on to the world. Continents and decades chase one another as the narrative traces the movements of the Cassar family. Hailing from Algeria, for much of the book they are citizens of nowhere. Their tribulations begin in 1940, when Lucienne and her children, François and Denise, flee Greece (where their father, Gaston, has been posted as the French naval attaché) to wait out the war in

The fresh, forceful voice of Frantz Fanon

‘If I’d died in my thirties, what would be left behind?’ is the question that keeps coming to mind reading this timely new biography of Frantz Fanon, the psychiatrist and philosopher who became an icon to leftist revolutionaries across the globe. ‘Would I want history to judge me by what I wrote at 36?’ For that was the absurdly young age at which Fanon died of leukaemia in 1961, leaving two key works to his name: Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth. Not a huge legacy, then, in sheer numbers of words. But it was enough to seal his reputation as both a chronicler of one

The Osnabrück witch trials echo down the centuries

Absent mothers resonate in the latest offerings from two heavyweights of French literature. Getting Lost is the diary kept by the prize-winning novelist Annie Ernaux while she was having an affair with a married man in 1989. Ernaux has already written a novel about this relationship. Now we have a more immediate and intimate account. Meanwhile, the octogenarian feminist and literary theorist Hélène Cixous continues her own brand of écriture féminine in Well-Kept Ruins. For the uninitiated, Cixous’s stream of consciousness is like reading Molly Bloom with a PhD from the Sorbonne, a raft of awards and a keen eye for cognitive dissonance. Cixous’s new book hinges on her arrival

Algeria’s War of Independence still leaves festering wounds, two new novels reveal

In France, even the car horns yelled about Algeria. A five-beat klaxon blast — three short, two long — signalled Al-gé-rie Fran-çaise. In the early 1990s, I slunk into a rally held by Jean-Marie Le Pen in Nice to find that for the ranks of cropped, thickset pieds noirs in leather jackets, the bloodbaths and betrayals three decades back in Oran, Constantine or Algiers drove what they thought and how they voted. A generation later, Algerian migrants or returnees — Arab, Kabyle, European — now have second- and third-generation families. But the atrocity-littered independence war of 1954-62, and its gruesome aftermath, remain festering wounds. France, as President Macron put it