The Art of Losing
Alice Zeniter, Frank Wynne
‘Remarkable . . . a novel about people that never loses its sense of humanity.’ Sunday Times
‘A deeply human text about the ghosts of identity and decolonization.’ Vanity Fair
Naima has always known that her family came from Algeria – but up until now, that meant very little to her. Born and raised in France, her knowledge of that foreign country is limited to what she’s learned from her grandparents’ tiny flat in a crumbling French sink estate: the food cooked for her, the few precious things they brought with them when they fled.
On the past, her family is silent. Why was her grandfather Ali forced to leave? Was he a harki – an Algerian who worked for and supported the French during the Algerian War of Independence? Once a wealthy landowner, how did he become an immigrant scratching a living in France?
Naima’s father, Hamid, says he remembers nothing. A child when the family left, in France he re-made himself: education was his ticket out of the family home, the key to acceptance into French society.
But now, for the first time since they left, one of Ali’s family is going back. Naima will see Algeria for herself, will ask the questions about her family’s history that, till now, have had no answers.
Spanning three generations across seventy years, Alice Zeniter’s The Art of Losing tells the story of how people carry on in the face of loss: the loss of a country, an identity, a way to speak to your children. It’s a story of colonization and immigration, and how in some ways, we are a product of the things we’ve left behind.
Translated from the French by Frank Wynne.
This book is supported by the Institut francais (Royaume-Uni) as part of the Burgess programme.
A powerful family saga . . . [Zeniter] shows how history is passed down from generation to generation, in stories pockmarked by what's left unsaid. * L'Obs * A captivating exploration of the unspoken stories of the Algerian war. * Le Monde * A deeply human text about the ghosts of identity and decolonization. * Vanity Fair * The Art of Losing is an exceptional novel, a masterful meditation on the negative space of history. With surgical control and deep emotional precision, Alice Zeniter tells the story of a family at once severed from and forever tethered to its past. -- Omar El Akkad, author of American War
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