Life is like salt-water
This is the story of Nassreddine and Anna. Born at the beginning
of the last century, Nassreddine 1928 in Algeria, Anna 1923 in
Switzerland, destiny let them meet in 1941 and part in 1955
More than 40 years, in 1997, later their ways cross again.
It‘s the story of Nassreddine, a common arab, born in a little
village in the deepest Maghreb, who still loves his country and
manages to survive there despite all confusion which shakes and
disturbes Algeria and more of this, never loses respect and love
It‘s the story of Anna, who runs away from home as a child in
1928, for good reasons as one gets to know, joining a circus as
a trapeze artist. At a guest performance in Algiers she gets
stuck there, but expelled years later. Being an old woman she
travells again to Algeria secretly, to investigate the past -
and complete it.
It is a love story of two who must meet and get used to each
other, a love at second sight maybe therefor so deep. A love
which has to overcome more than cultural differences, for both
had to overcome more adversities each than one could bear.
It‘s the story of Algeria, of fights for independence through
the confusion of civil war till todays‘s terror.
It is a cruel book and a tender one.
Literally spoken as figurative.
Horrifying because it describes in direct words cruelities of
which people are capable to other people - out of jealousy, from
greed or because of their power about others. For it never
extenuates colonialism nor racism, terror nor torture.
Hard to bear because it shows the relentlessness of fate.
Written in a pictorial language which reminds in her poetry on
1001 night occasionally,
drastically - typically Arabian, typically Maghrebian..
Terrible and full of lust for life at the same time.
And it raises hope for reconciliation, with life, to what life
has done to one, whether in the Maghreb or in Switzerland...
This book has fascinated me for days. I immersed in this distant
world, shared the many described destinies apart from those of
Nassreddine and Anna:
Rina, the Polish Jewess, a refugee in the circus, perishing in
Zehra, Nassreddines mother, getting bleeded.
Jallal, the little boy and tramp from Algiers, a maltreated,
distrusting child, finally finding love and trust.
Jaurden, a proud Tuareg and old friend of Nassreddine.
And many many opthers.
No one is innocent. Everybody is perpetrator and victim at the
same time.. But they all have a strength, an energy which is
nearly unbelievable to master their destiny, go their way
obeying the unavoidable.
It is an erotic book.Sometimes. Erotic in a way a friend
described that way:
the conquest of another person never fulfills us completely or
rather fulfills us even more, when it‘s only partly successfull,
when a rest of secret remains - not because the other wants to
remain mysterious but because we discover more and more how
variously and surprisingly he/she is and remains, but familiar
This book fascinated me because of a lot awakening memories. I
got to know a young Algerian my mother met in 1972 on her trip
through the Sahara who emigrated to Norway later for political
reasons. We shared a long lasting friendship and talked a lot
about Algeria, what he had experienced and done there, even he
almost hinted at these things. But after reeding this book I
understood more why he has gone back to his country despite the
danger for his life.
"The devil has entered our country, and his footprints are
everywhere," Majid‘s words to Anna point out one side of this
mysterious but as well cruel land stretching from the shores of
the Mediterranean to the depths of the Sahara: the terrifying
history up to the reality of modernday Algeria.
Anouar Benmalek dedicated „The Lovers of Algeria" to his
grandmother Marcelle Wagneres, an swiss artiste, stranded in
North Africa, to his mother having been bothered by exile for
all her life, first her own then that of her children and to all
people in Algeria who have no intercessors.
So I think he wrote down the history of his own family or at
least people near to his family.
Anour Benmalek, son of a sociology professor, was born in
Casablanca in 1956 and now lives in France, having both the
Algerian and the French citizenship. He is one of the founding
members of the Algerian Committee against Torture, but works as
a lecturer in mathematics in Rennes as well as a journalist. He
is one of Algeria's most respected writers and a dedicated
The Lovers of Algeria
Hardcover 320 pages (18 October, 2001)
Publisher: Harvill P.;
Even the book is written in French I‘ve read it in German so I
dare to try to give an quotation:
„One day, when there was great hunger, she [his mother] has said
to him: Life would bed each of us down on roses and thorns,
people like her and him however are bedded down on thorns rather
than on roses. The woman from the Aures had added with passion
by touching him at his chin and seeing in his eyes directly:
Nevertheless you will see, life is strange, my son! Even at the
worst moments you will never get enough of it because life is
like saltwater: the more you drink of it, my son, the thirstier
you get!"(p. 216):
© Lea Rafiki 20.04.2004