To Algeria, With Love

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Knowing little about the colonial war in Algeria I dived into this novel blindly searching for a history I had yet to learn. Set in 1961 and spanning 50 years, Suzanne Ruta's To Algeria, With Love is a tragically composed account of both political and romantic affairs. The retrospective tone to the novel sheds a regretful light on the protagonist Louise as she slowly but surely unwraps the secrets that she has carried with her on her life journey. 

As a young American  Louise flies over to France expecting a continental education that will set her apart from her idle peers. However the education she receives is not from the stately institution but from the lucid Wally -  an Algerian who has fled the war gripping his country. Working long hours in a factory and sending money home to his wife and children, handsome Wally also acts as an ironic tour guide to lost American students. I found his character hard to grasp as he unflinchingly drifts from mentor to confidante to lover - not to say I didn't like him, I just found his mentality patronizing. More to the point, his affair with Louise  develops as naturally and casually as it possibly can with the North African political turbulence dominating their idyllic French landscape. 

In present day, New York is still coming to terms with the horrific events of 9/11  - a subject which draws both middle-aged Louise and Aissa together as they are faced with colliding cultures. Suzanne Ruta has approached this subject with sensitivity as she draws parallels between the war on terror and the innocent lives taken in Algeria's war-torn past.

Admittedly I read this as an oral history-esque interview with chapters giving independent voices to two main characters: Louise's voice is one of nostalgic sorrow - a woman who is not only coming to terms with her shadows but is also searching for the Algerian son she so regretfully gave up.  Aissa, a contemporary Algerian writer meets Louise in present-day New York whilst he is on a literary tour.  During a loose and undeniably one-sided conversation spanning a couple of years, Louise honours Aissa with the burden of reporting on the current whereabouts of her long-lost son whilst conceding that her choices were predetermined.

This novel is so intricately woven it is almost impossible to give you a full sense of its depth. Somehow you just become part of the pages, making it incredibly hard not to sympathise with the young and foolish Louise however opinionated you may be. 

Highly recommended, not a tear jerker but most certainly one to make you think.

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