Lovers of Algeria, The

by Benmalek, Anouar

An interracial love story set against the harshness of Algerian colonial and civil wars. After her father allowed her mother to be deported from Switzerland to Germany, Anna leaves home to join the circus, a peripatetic existence leading her to Algiers. There, penniless and bewildered, she leaves the troupe to help a jailed Jewish friend and is caught up in the horrors of colonialism, American wartime liberation, and racism. She also meets the equally penurious Nassreddine, a sweet Chaoui who has experienced injustices himself. With the backdrop of war, the sexually inexperienced pair develops a highly charged erotic relationship, until Nassreddine is arrested for dealing in stolen goods and spends three years in the army in Europe. Back in Africa, he tracks Anna to Madagascar, where for five years they live on a farm and have twins and he remains eager to return to his homeland. French troops arrest, interrogate and torture him during the Algerian war of independence, freedom fighters blame his giving of information for French army massacres and kill his children, and Anna disappears while he is in jail. Forty years later, Anna resurfaces in Algiers, looking for Nassreddine. The civil war rages. She sends a telegram to Nassreddine’s village and then heads off to find him, with a nine-year-old orphaned peanut-seller as guide. Rebels kidnap and brutalize them, until they escape during an army bombing of rebel positions. Finally, Nassreddine and Anna are reunited and they, along with the boy, head to the southern desert regions, still much in love. Despite the human kindness of a few minor characters, however, the story’s lingering images are the bestial bloodthirstiness and sexual predation of French and Algerian men, the inhuman victimization of the Algerian people, and the seeming futility of any solution. Not groundbreaking, and sometimes overly melodramatic, but, still, a solid, engaging, and agonizingly brutal piece of work. (Kirkus Reviews)