Kant’s Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write: An Autobiography in Essays

Claire Messud. Norton, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-324-00675-6
In this moving and evocative essay collection, novelist Messud (The Burning Girl) reflects on family, art, and why she writes. Her essays conjure up an itinerant 1970s childhood—moving from the U.S. to Sydney, Australia; visits with her maternal grandmother in Toronto; and summers with her paternal grandparents in Toulon, France. She illuminates the two women who shaped her—her fiercely traditional French Catholic “spinster aunt,” and her mother, discontented with having given up career for family. Reflecting on family vacation trips to the world’s incipient hot spots—in Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Sri Lanka, among others—she discovers that regardless of differing ideas or “strangenesses of culture... always at the heart are the ordinary people, and there is just life, being lived”—good preparation for becoming a novelist, she says. Art, she writes, has the power “to alter our interior selves,” and she offers nuanced appreciations of, among others, Camus, like her father a Frenchman born in colonial Algeria; Valeria Luiselli, who tries to find new ways to “document” the present; and Marlene Dumas, a figurative painter “driven by gesture, and serendipity... and by the confluence of diverse inspirations.” These intimate, contemplative and probing essays reveal Messud’s rich inner life and generosity of spirit. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 05/26/2020
Release date: 10/13/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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