And Their Children After Them follows two young men, Anthony and Hacine, as they make their way through adolescence in a small, rural (fictional) town in an economically depressed region of France. While we meet other significant characters throughout the book, the narrative revolves around events in these two adversaries’ coming-of-age journeys. Divided into four parts, the book recounts snapshots from a span of six years – each part of the book being a different year (1992, 1994, 1996 and 1998).
The first half of the book felt incredibly slow with tedious plot development. My attention wasn’t fully engaged until the end of part two, just over 100 pages from the end of the 420-page book. While the last 150 pages were very engaging and warrant a 4.5/5 rating, it was the nearly 300 pages the reader has to get through first that have me giving the book a 3.5/5. If you can stick with it, the ending is fantastic.
While the book is drawn out, there is a surprising amount of beautiful cinematic irony. For instance, the story begins and ends with a stolen motorcycle – the first theft changing the course of both main characters’ lives. There are also some complex, hard-hitting themes (drug use, alcoholism, suicide, divorce) that present a somber, somewhat hopeless outlook for the struggling, nearly forgotten, town.
The supporting characters are also given an amount of depth that make the story richer, especially as characters’ stories meld and come to a head toward the end of the book. Written in third person, the author does a beautiful job giving us a peek into the minds of supporting characters in a way that helps the reader better understand the main characters too. All around, the main and supporting characters, their woes and transgressions are real, raw and relatable.
Readers who enjoy novels about searching for identity and coming-of-age stories will likely appreciate and enjoy And Their Children After Them, and even more so if they grew up in the 90’s. Cultural and historical references are peppered throughout the book. The 1998 World Cup, a monumental event for France, even plays a significant part in both main characters’ storylines near the end.
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