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The setup in this elegant winner of a novel seems so obvious; aren't warning bells sounding for Nora Eldridge? A middle-aged Boston-area elementary school teacher and artist manque who cuttingly describes herself as "the woman upstairs"-someone who can be depended on to be dependable-Nora is enthralled when sweet, smart, charming Reza Shadid enters her class. His Lebanese-born father has left a post in Paris to teach in America for a year, while his Italian-born mother, the appropriately named Sirena, is an artist of some renown. Together, this worldly, glamorous family seduces Nora, with Sirena especially culpable. She talks Nora into sharing a studio with her, and soon Nora is opening to all the possibilities life has to offer-possibilities she thought were dead and gone forever. Verdict This quietly, tensely unfolding story is related in retrospect, so we know from the start that it has ended badly for Nora. The only question is how. Remarkably, Messud (The Emperor's Children) lets us experience Nora's betrayal as if it were our own, and what finally happens really is a punch in the stomach. Highly recommended.-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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*Starred Review* In this acid bath of a novel, the superlative Messud (The Emperor's Children, 2006) immolates an iconic figure the good, quiet, self-sacrificing woman with exhilarating velocity, fury, and wit while taking on the vicissitudes of family life and the paradoxes of art. Nora, our archly funny, venomous, and raging 42-year-old narrator, recounts her thirty-seventh year, when she was living alone and teaching third grade in Boston after the death of her profoundly frustrated mother. Nora longs to make art but hasn't mustered the necessary conviction. Enter the Paris-based Shahids. Reza, her new student, is a magnet for bullies stirred up by post-9/11 xenophobia. His Palestinian Lebanese father, Skandar, is a prominent academic spending a year at Harvard. His Italian mother, Sirena, is an artist in need of a studio and a studio mate. She promptly recruits Nora. A confident and passionate conduit for mythological powers, Sirena creates lush gardens and jungles made out of household items and refuse. Unworldly and lonely Nora, a veritable daughter of Ibsen, builds dollhouses small, painstakingly accurate replicas of the rooms occupied by women artists ranging from Emily Dickinson to Edie Sedgwick. Messud's scorching social anatomy, red-hot psychology, galvanizing story, and incandescent language make for an all-circuits-firing novel about enthrallment, ambition, envy, and betrayal. A tour de force portraying a no longer invisible or silent woman upstairs. --Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist
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The gifted Messud, writing her way through the ages, has now arrived at a woman in her 40s-and it's not pretty. Nora Eldridge, a schoolteacher who dreams of being an artist, is angry, cynical, and quietly desperate. Then she meets the Shahid family: Sirena, Skandar, and Reza, a student in Nora's third-grade class at Appleton Elementary in Cambridge, Mass. When Sirena asks Nora to share an artists' studio, Nora falls in love with each exotic Shahid in turn: Sirena, for her artistic vision; Skandar, for his intellectual fervor; and Reza, because he's a perfectly beautiful child, bullied at school but magnanimous. In her previous books, Messud (The Emperor's Children) has set individuals against the weight of kin; here is an individual who believes she's found a vigorous self in the orbit of a dangerously charismatic family. But after freeing Nora from herself, the Shahids betray her, Sirena especially, cruelly exploiting a private moment of Nora's newfound joy with an intimate work of art Sirena shows in Paris without Nora's knowledge. As with other Messud characters, these too are hard to love; few would want to know the unpalatable Nora, so full of self-loathing, nor the self-important Shahids. Agent: Georges and Anne Borchardt, the Borchardt Agency. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.