Samira Sedira's first English-language title, translated by Sara Vergnaud, is clearly marked "a novel" on its cover, and yet so much of the story is true. People Like Them is a fascinating amalgam of gruesome headlines--French newspapers in 2003 reported that an entire family was butchered by a neighbor--and Sedira's personal experience at age 44 of cleaning other people's houses. The Algerian-born French novelist, playwright and actor Sedira intertwines these disparate events to create a jarring narrative of privilege and power.
The "carnage behind closed doors" has already happened in the first chapter. The Langlois family--Bakary, Sylvia, their children--are dead. Their neighbor Constant calmly carried out the murders. To reveal the crime's genesis, Sedira chooses Anna as narrator, Constant's not-quite-wife. Once upon a time, city professionals Bakary and Sylvia decided they were "willing to make the sacrifice" for a calmer village life and built a substantial chalet across from Constant and Anna. Proximity made the couples friends--for a bit. But their relationship sours when Anna becomes Sylvia's maid and Constant decides to sink his parents' savings into Bakary's get-rich-quick promises. Socioeconomic differences continue to divide, but most treacherous is race: that Bakary, adopted by Parisian intellectuals out of "extreme poverty in Gabon," is the village's only Black man has fatal consequences.
Sedira plots a tight, terse novel, made particularly intriguing with Anna as cipher: she's always been overlooked but somehow emerges as sole survivor. "There's no such thing as monsters. Only humans," Sedira concludes in her author's note. Indeed, her searing fiction further exposes the reality of monstrous inhumanity. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon