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The Lovers of Algeriaby Anouar Benmalek
Synopses & Reviews
A breathless story of love and survival in war-torn Algeria-past and present
The devil has entered our country, and his footprints are everywhere.
Nine-year-old Jallal is old enough to know that his life in Algeria is precarious at best. Having run away from home, he survives by selling peanuts and single cigarettes on the street. The proposal by the elderly Swiss woman named Anna is shocking and preposterous: go to the mountains with her, as a translator, so she can find her lost lover from decades ago and pray over the graves of their murdered children.
Anna and Jallal's journey is wrought with danger and unspeakable tragedy. It was under similar circumstances that Anna first met the Arab Nasreddine. Ousted from the traveling circus where she performed as a trapeze artist, she had little choice but to accept Nasreddine's dangerous offer to live with him in a makeshift tent. But it was here, amid poverty, racism, and terrifyingly random violence, that they fell in love.
A best seller in France, The Lovers of Algeria is an unflinchingly candid story about a country where terrorism and government corruption are commonplace. As Anna and Nasreddine, beaten by time and memory, circle each other in Algeria, Anouar Benmalek shows with heart-wrenching detail that love can endure even the most inhuman conditions.
A Lannan Translation Series Selection
"This captivating novel set in late 20th-century Algeria entwines the country's tumultuous politics with the personal histories of two lovers who found and lost each other amid the upheaval. Forty years after her twin children were killed by the FLN (Algerian Liberation Front), 65-year-old Anna leaves Switzerland for Algiers in search of her children's graves and her Arab first husband, Nassreddine. Attempting to disguise her European identity in a land rife with racism and terrorism, she dons traditional Arab dress and enlists the help of nine-year-old Jallal, a precocious, destitute street peddler. The unlikely couple ventures off into the mountains, but Nassreddine is living in Algiers, 'the dirty, cruel capital which, in lieu of family, he has learned to love so dearly.' Benmalek uses Anna's search for her husband, a spiritual pilgrimage in its own right, as a way of reaching into the past: he shows Anna as a disillusioned circus acrobat; Nassreddine imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and wrongly accused of everything from resistance fighting to cannibalism. Despite the violence, corruption and discord, however, Benmalek never denies Algiers its beauty — 'magnificent beneath its blazing sun.' Vivid language and striking metaphors bring the landscape to life, and temporal shifts establish a punishing distance between the characters as they search for one another. This book was a bestseller in France, where it was awarded the Prix Rahid. With a poetic but light-handed translation by Joanna Kilmartin, a more modest but admiring reception here should be expected. Agent, Alice Tassel. (Aug.) Forecast: Benmalek's disjointed, dream-like treatment of time and his interweaving of romance and turbulent history will remind readers of Michael Ondaatje — the comparison should help generate interest in this deserving novel." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Anouar Benmalek was born in Casablanca in 1956 and now lives in France. After the 1988 riots in Algeria in protest of government policies, he became one of the founders of the Algerian Committee Against Torture.
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