Yamina Taleb, the seventy-year-old matriarch at the heart of Faïza Guène’s provocative sixth novel, ‘seems unfeasibly deaf to the call of anger’. Having survived war, starvation, cholera and the barbarism of French soldiers, then raised her four children in a Paris banlieue, Yamina has sought to protect herself and her family behind a carapace of discretion and dignified silence. Yet encrusted in that hard shell are the enduring effects of colonial violence, a legacy that has passed without a word from Yamina and her husband to their kids, smart resourceful adults who feel excluded from French society.
The scenes that are most effective are those in which Guène lets her material speak for itself. One such involves a check-up with a doctor who manages to combine both negligence and paternalism like a hangover from the days of la mission civilisatrice: ‘Come on, let’s take off