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Harvill Secker

The Child of an Ancient People by Anouar Benmalek (translated by Andrew Riemer)

March 2004, no. 259

At once extravagant and tightly wrapped, this novel reinforces the view that historical fiction says as much about the present and the future as it does about the past. At the level of history proper, Anouar Benmalek’s vision unites three continents that, in the second half of the nineteenth century, are subject to the depredations of European colonialism and domestic tyranny. At the human level, his fiction is preoccupied with the bodily functions and basic needs of survival: things that never change. The broad, impersonal sweep of world history is made up of the infinitesimally small transactions of the primal scene: copulating, defecating, vomiting, bleeding, all driven by the elemental forces of fear and desire, violence and conscience.

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Coup de Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar

May 1993, no. 150

Originally published in French in 1939, Coup de Grâce is a subtle book, ‘a human, not political, document’ written with absolute assurance and remarkable skill. That the book is filled with a disturbing inhumanity portrayed (without irony) as nobility, makes it a disturbing experience for the contemporary reader.

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