Friday, September 16, 2016

Algeria: Harraga, by Boualem Sansal

I'm trying to fill in more of the A's and B's in my list of countries. Algeria seemed as if it would not be too difficult, and so I tried to find a female author among a number of Algerian authors whose books were in our local library, but I failed. This looked like a good alternative...

Lamia is a single woman, a doctor, who lives alone in a crumbling old colonial house in Algiers. Her parents are both dead, as is her older brother Yacine, who has been killed in a car crash. Her younger brother Sofiane has become a harraga, a path burner, someone who risks his life attempting to flee the country for a better life elsewhere.

One day an impetuous, wild young woman, Cherifa, turns up on Lamia's doorstep. Lamia takes her in, because she says that Sofiane has sent her. Cherifa is pregnant, and soon turns Lamia'slife upside down with her unpredictable ways.

Lamia and Cherifa are two very different women, but they forge a friendship and alliance in a patriarchal world where to be a single woman is an affront, and a pregnant woman can be killed to protect her family's honour. I had hoped to read a book about Islamic woman written by a woman, but Sansal's perspective rings true and seems convincing. He is considered in the west to be one of Algeria's most important novelists, however since 2006 his books have been banned in his own country. Another, An Unfinished Business, has also been translated into English and I look forward to reading that, too, at a later date.

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