Zeniter has used fiction to demystify the war, its evolution and its fallout through an enthralling saga of three generations of a family from Algeria’s mountainous Kabylia region who left the country in 1962 and moved to France ... Ms. Zeniter’s extraordinary achievement is to transform a complicated conflict into a compelling family chronicle, rich in visual detail and lustrous in language. Her storytelling, splendidly translated by Frank Wynne, carries the reader through different generations, cities, cultures, and mindsets without breaking its spell ... Ms. Zeniter shows fiction’s power as a hedge against loss of the past: the art of regaining.
... remarkable ... Despite postmodern flourishes — suggesting then denying Naïma is the author — this is an old-fashioned family saga, yet because it deals with immigration, nationalism and Islam, it speaks urgently to our time, particularly as Naïma confronts dilemmas facing even second-generation immigrants. The moral weight of her story is won through the superbly handled earlier sections dealing with the complexities of Ali’s loyalties during the war of independence, as Zeniter evenly catalogues the atrocities on both sides. Through Hamid she shows how immigrant families fracture down the generations, alienated from their roots while still not fitting into their host society. This is a novel about people that never loses its sense of humanity.
While the level of detail can sometimes leave readers struggling to keep track of the many twigs on Naïma’s family tree, the novel vividly portrays the fates of a group of victims and survivors of a morally complex war. This is both a classic tale of the immigrant experience and a meditation on how that experience reverberates through generations of a family.
An unnamed and invisible narrator occasionally breaks through the fourth wall of Zeniter’s narrative, which is densely packed with fact and feeling about Algeria’s often difficult relationship with France and France’s difficult relationship with Algerians. Awarded the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, the novel provides a crash course in a contemporary problem with historical roots ... Where are you from? Zeniter’s family saga addresses this question and a more difficult one: What if you don’t know?
... ruminative ... 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.