Claire Messud’s most recent novel is The Woman Upstairs. (March 2017)


The Dancer & the Dance

Swing Time

by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s fifth novel addresses many themes—dance, as an idea and an art form; friendship and rivalry between girls and women; mothers, daughters, and motherhood; racial and cultural identity; creativity and success; ambition; love—and touches, too, on many more: contemporary forms of liberal Western cultural imperialism; the effects of social media; the return to religion in developing countries (in this case, to Islam, in Gambia); the culture of celebrity and its effects; Europe’s immigration crisis. It is an unwieldy list, to be sure, and represents, in fictional form, the consuming and urgent preoccupations of one of our generation’s significant literary minds.

Revealing an Unknown Cairo

Yasmine El Rashidi, New York City, 2016

Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt

by Yasmine El Rashidi
What Yasmine El Rashidi attempts in her deceptively quiet, adamantine novel Chronicle of a Last Summer is no less than to suffuse the present with the past, to convey the way in which a walk through Cairo and the purchase of vegetables are acts filled not only with vivid present detail but also with echoes of historical and political significance.

The Brother of the ‘Stranger’

The Meursault Investigation

by Kamel Daoud, translated from the French by John Cullen
Kamel Daoud’s novel The Meursault Investigation may have attracted more international attention than any other debut in recent years. The Algerian writer’s book, first published in French in Algeria in 2013, then in France in 2014 (where it won the Goncourt First Novel Prize and was runner-up for the Prix …


Matisse: The Joy of Things

Matisse, unsurprisingly, had strong feelings about the objects of his daily life. They delighted, inspired, or confounded him, in their humble ordinariness and in all that they evoked. These mundane items, the organizing principle for the exhilarating show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, served as sparks for Matisse’s art. The exhibition’s considerations of these objects enable us to see Matisse’s works anew.

Carmen Herrera: Art Without Lies

The current exhibition of Herrera’s work at the Whitney Museum endeavors to rectify the American art world’s long-term neglect: it focuses on Herrera’s work from 1948-1978, from her earliest abstracts through the various stages of her artistic evolution. For audiences, the revelation over the past decade of Herrera’s bold and vital work is a glorious gift.

The Soul of Alice Neel

Alice Neel’s portraits are rarely serene but always memorable. The new book Painter of Modern Life demonstrates how her early paintings range from the unsettling to the disturbing. Her later paintings largely eschew melodrama, but they are always uneasy, inviting the viewer into a direct and often alarming intimacy with their subjects. Awkwardness abounds, and with it sometimes dark comedy.

Revealing the Real Iran

When I landed at boarding school in Boston in the fall of 1980—from a public school in Toronto, another world—I assumed the Iranian girls knew the ropes better than I did. Posh New England culture was utterly alien to me; but how much more so must it have been to my fellow boarders lately of Tehran? Aware of the recent revolution—even at fourteen, one couldn’t not be—I nevertheless was unable to relate the girl brushing her teeth beside me in the dorm bathroom to mass demonstrations or the then ongoing hostage crisis half a world away. I never asked the Iranians a single question about their histories: it was tacitly accepted that it was too delicate a subject and, by force of silence, too remote from our placid world of emerald lawns and peeling white columns. What, I now wonder, must the Iranian girls have thought?