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The Last Life


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About the Author

Claire Messud was born in the United States in 1966. She was educated at Yale and Cambridge. Her novels include When the World Was Steady, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1996, and The Last Life, which was widely praised and has been translated into several languages.


Messud's first novel, When the World Was Steady, was a finalist for the PEN/ Faulkner Award; this second work certainly deserves the same kind of treatment. Told by 14-year-old Sagesse LaBasse, it details the destruction of a family of French Algerian emigrants in the south of France. Sagesse is stunned when her grandfather takes a shot at a group of noisy friends at his hotel pool. Other domestic stresses complicate the family's unity: the disabled brother, the philandering father, and the domineering grandmother who had tried to keep the family together with stories from the past. This is a thoughtful, beautifully written novel with well-developed characters and psychological insights. Sagesse is totally believable as a mixed-up teen, and the historical background of the Algerian war for independence from France is accurately depicted. Highly recommended for all public libraries.ÄAnn Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., Silver Spring, MD Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Loss of innocenceÄfor a young girl, her family and her nationÄis the theme of Messud's resonant second novel. Plangent with the memories of a pivotal two-year period in the life of teenage narrator Sagesse LaBasse, the novel flashes back to three generations of the LaBasse family, pieds noirs who fled Algeria during the 1960s. Domineering patriarch Jacques, Sagesse's grandfather, establishes the Hotel Bellevue on France's Mediterranean coast and proclaims the family myth of invincibility. But the LaBasses suffer from the same vain and empty valuesÄoverweening pride and social snobberyÄthat led to the French debacle in Algeria. To Sagesse's piously Catholic parents, Alex and Carol, their severely handicapped son, Etienne, is the embodiment of the doctrine of Original Sin, and Carol cares for him at home because LaBasse women must sacrifice themselves for the good of the family. Etienne is also a blow to his parents' marriage, already foundering because of Alex's womanizing and their different cultural backgrounds: Carol is American, and has never been accepted by her stern in-laws. After intolerant, irascible grandpŠre shoots at rowdy teenagers on the hotel property, he is sentenced to prison, the LaBasses become social outcasts and Sagesse's friends abandon her. Alex briefly comes into his own and runs the hotel, but Jacques's release accelerates Alex's and the family's destruction. Messud (When the World Was Steady) sustains an elegiac tone in describing a seemingly ordered world that in reality is precarious; the LaBasses erect futile defenses against tragedies they are unable to prevent. In striking scenes, Messud recreates the last days of French rule in Algeria and the anomie of the ex-colonials, exiles from the land they love and strangers in their mother country. Sometimes these frequent flashbacks are awkward and not well integrated into the narrative. Yet some scenesÄSagesse acting out her adolescent insecurity during a summer with her relatives in New England, for exampleÄare small gems. Questions of morality and mortality, of choice or fate or historical destiny, permeate the chronicle, adding coherence to a moving and insightful story. Agent, Georges Borchardt. Author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

A phenomenally controlled tour de force . . . Every step feels stunningly sure. -Vogue
Haunting and evocative . . . Messud's is a novel rich in detail and warmly conveyed. . . . In its beautiful last pages, connections become crystalline, showing how we are linked in ways far deeper than religion, nationality or even blood-lines can delineate.-San Francisco Chronicle
Remarkable . . . Messud has written a very serious book-always original, intense, and gripping.-The New York Review of Books

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