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The Emperor's Children    by Claire Messud order for
Emperor's Children
by Claire Messud
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

The Emperor's Children follows a group of thirty-something friends, living in Manhattan and trying to find their place in the world, trying to maneuver through their lives like one tries to find the way out of a maze.

Most of the characters' lives center around Murray Thwaite, a Manhattan pseudo-intellectual who is a famous writer on many important subjects. There's Murray's daughter Marina, who is an aspiring writer trying to find her own way in New York's literary scene while trying to live up to her father's reputation and expectations; Marina's best friend Danielle, who becomes involved in an illicit affair; Bootie, Thwaite's down-on-his-luck nephew, who exploits his uncle for his own purposes; and Julius, a critic, who lands in one unhealthy relationship after another.

The book is set in the months preceding 9/11, and ends soon after 9/11, giving the author the opportunity to explore how we are changed by events over which we have no control. Another running theme is the inherent complexity of relationships - all of the characters are in complicated relationships, and even friendships have their bumps in the road.

Like an artist decorating a canvas, Messud artfully fills her pages with beautiful language. The description of the psychological aftermath and effects of 9/11 on one of the main characters was so evocative, so gripping, that I felt compelled to re-read it several times to make sure I absorbed every morsel.

While Messud supplies an engaging plot, not without a small amount of suspense, the book is more character driven than plot driven - the characters had such distinctive voices that you knew whose dialogue was whose. This book had a well-deserved placement on the New York Times bestseller list.

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