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Reviews The Lovers of Algier - Anouar Benmalek

The Lovers of Algier 

Anouar Benmalek



Overall user rating The Lovers of Algier - Anouar Benmalek

A review by Lea Rafiki on The Lovers of Algier - Anouar Benmalek
April 20th, 2004

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a most fascinating novel about life in Algeria for the last fifty years


sometimes very cruel


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Full review

  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 again.
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 for life.
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 tender.
And poetic.
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 the end.
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 as well.
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.

The Author
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 democrat.

The Lovers of Algeria
Hardcover 320 pages (18 October, 2001)
Publisher: Harvill P.;
ISBN: 1860468683
Price: £15.99

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