Kant's Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write: An Autobiography in Essays

Kant's Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write: An Autobiography in Essays

by Claire Messud


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A glimpse into a beloved novelist’s inner world, shaped by family, art, and literature.

In her fiction, Claire Messud "has specialized in creating unusual female characters with ferocious, imaginative inner lives" (Ruth Franklin, New York Times Magazine). Kant’s Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write opens a window on Messud’s own life: a peripatetic upbringing; a warm, complicated family; and, throughout it all, her devotion to art and literature.

In twenty-six intimate, brilliant, and funny essays, Messud reflects on a childhood move from her Connecticut home to Australia; the complex relationship between her modern Canadian mother and a fiercely single French Catholic aunt; and a trip to Beirut, where her pied-noir father had once lived, while he was dying. She meditates on contemporary classics from Kazuo Ishiguro, Teju Cole, Rachel Cusk, and Valeria Luiselli; examines three facets of Albert Camus and The Stranger; and tours her favorite paintings at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. In the luminous title essay, she explores her drive to write, born of the magic of sharing language and the transformative powers of “a single successful sentence.”

Together, these essays show the inner workings of a dazzling literary mind. Crafting a vivid portrait of a life in celebration of the power of literature, Messud proves once again "an absolute master storyteller" (Rebecca Carroll, Los Angeles Times).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781324006756
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/13/2020
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 107,441
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Claire Messud is the author of six works of fiction, including the New York Times bestsellers The Emperor’s Children and The Burning Girl, and a book of essays, Kant’s Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Somerville, MA, USA

Place of Birth:

Greenwich, CT, USA


BA in Comparative Literature, Yale University, 1987, MA in English Literature, Jesus College, Cambridge University, 1989

Table of Contents

Introduction xiii

Part 1 Reflections

Then 3

Nostalgia 15

The Road to Damascus 20

Two Women 45

Mother's Knee 65

Kant's Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons

Why I Write 72

Our Dogs 84

How to be a Better Woman in the Twenty-First Century 94

Teenage Girls 98

The Time for Art is Now 106

Part 2 Criticism: Books Three Essays on Camus and His Legacy

Camus and Algeria: The Moral Question 113

A New L'Étranger 132

The Brother of the Stranger: Kamel Daoud 141

Kazuo Ishiguro 151

Jane Bowles 160

Italo Svevo 173

Teju Cole 186

Magda Szabó 201

Rachel Cusk 212

Saul Friedländer 225

Yasmine El Rashidi 233

Valeria Euiselli 245

Part 3 Criticism: Images

Alice Neel 261

Marlene Dumas 271

Sally Mann 286

A Home from Home: Boston's Museum of Fine Arts 293

Acknowledgments 303

Index of Publications 305

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