cover image The Art of Losing

The Art of Losing

Alice Zeniter, trans. from the French by Frank Wynne. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-0-3741-8230-4

In Zeniter’s ruminative latest (after Take This Man), a French Algerian woman unearths her shrouded family history and reckons with the question of what constitutes a homeland. Ali, a veteran of the WWII French auxiliary, has built a sizable olive oil business in Algeria, but flees for France with his family after Algeria wins its independence. Ali’s eldest son, Hamid, assimilates into French culture and distances himself from his family, while Naima, Hamid’s art historian daughter, who endures bigotry after the Charlie Hebdo massacre and other acts of terrorism, delves headlong into research on Algeria in preparation for an art exhibit by expatriate Algerian artist Lalla Fatma N’Soumer. During their interviews, she struggles to grasp the stories Lalla tells her about Algeria while piecing together an understanding of her own identity, given that Hamid had refused to take her to Algeria as a child. A trip to a museum in Tizi Ouzi provides cover for a search for information about Ali, but on the way she worries how she’ll be treated as a descendent of French allies. Zeniter skillfully demonstrates the impact of colonialism on family, country, and the historical archive. With nuance and grace, this meditative novel adds to the understanding of a complex, uncomfortable era of French history. (Mar.)