Tuesday, 15 April 2014

What the Day Owes the Night
Yasmina Khadra

Warning! Do not attempt this book until you have time to finish it. Once picked up, it is incredibly difficult to put it down until the end. Written, I am told, by an Algerian army officer, who has written under a female assumed name so as to avoid censorship from his superiors, this novel takes us through a multitude of emotions and circumstances.

We follow the life of Younes, or Jonas, taken from an Arab birth to be brought up in the Jewish community. We will follow his life until its conclusion and we will be submerged in the conflicts, both mental and physical between the rich and the poor, and Jew and Muslim (with a smattering of Christianity). French rule competes with independence, interspersed with an internal power struggle. Into this mix, we can add the growing pains of a young man, the angst of unrequited love and the benefits, or otherwise, of a groups of close friends with whom life’s toils are shared. I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything.

So, how has it all fitted it all in? By bombarding us with page after page of quality text! Using both descriptive landscaping and by engaging us with the main protagonists, we are, in short, thrust into the lives of the characters and we are allowed, very quickly, to decide the friendliness (or otherwise) of each in turn. As far as I’m concerned, I did want to know the fate of each one; nobody fell to the wayside. The book is also complete, inasmuch as we are told how each character finishes up. There are no loose ends, and we are allowed to close the book having got all the information we want.

Technically clever, Khadra wastes little time or words throughout. We are expected to understand there is an inherent tension between religions and levels of poverty, but as the international world might fail to know how, why and when the independence conflict started, we are told, at the appropriate time, in about four pages. Enough to learn and understand, but brief enough so as not to get bogged down with the politics. The text remains very readable and easy to follow.

As I travel through my world of authors, I have no doubt that I will want to veer off and read another novel from the same writer; this is the case in this instance. Algeria is made out to be an interesting place, the people complex and the lifestyle worthy of further exploration. And if any other Algerian authors come to the standard of Khdra, producing work of this quality, then I can’t wait to return for a second helping!

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