Around the World in Words: Algeria

Algeria is a country I knew next to nothing about; all I really knew before this reading challenge is that it’s in North Africa. Besides the fact that reading a book from every country in the world is a massive task to undertake, what makes the challenge even tougher is trying to find books written by someone from a certain country and set in that country.

I’m not that rigid about author’s birth place and book setting all the time – if I were, I’d never finish this challenge. So many of us have so many countries’ influences on our lives, and this challenge opens your eyes to the ways in which you are connected to the world.

For Algeria, however, I did manage to tick all those boxes. I read The Angels Die by Algerian author Yasmina Khadra (the pen name of Mohammed Moulessehoul), which is set in Algeria between the two world wars.

I found The Angels Die at Exclusive Books, and it was the first book I purchased specifically for this challenge. I have since wondered into one of my favourite literary realms – second hand bookstores – to look for more countries with which to complete my challenge. However, unlike many secondhand bookstores, Exclusive Books has a pretty decent African literature section and as I happened to be there one night, I browsed and encountered this masterful Algerian novel.

It appealed to me because it is the story of a boxer.  Boxing is not a martial art, but their practice shares various principles, and having trained in the Korean martial art of Taekwon-do for several years, the main character appealed to me. In addition to my own training, my father did boxing for seven years, and our former president, Nelson Mandela, was also passionate about the sport. (Side note: if you’re into martial arts, a good book to read is The Art of War by Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu. Everything that he writes in his concise compendium can be applied to the art of self-defense.)

The Angels Die is set primarily in Oran, which the author vividly brings to life along with every hardship and happiness the main character, Turambo, encounters growing up. From first love to true love to friendship through every adversity, Turambo is wonderfully rendered, and you feel every powerful blow, whether physical or emotional. With a fantastic cast of supporting characters, I became immersed in the bustling streets of Oran, courtesy of Khadra’s eloquent storytelling, immersing myself in Algeria for the first, and hopefully not the last, time.

When charitable people intervene to save your skin, they don’t necessarily plan to leave any of it on your back. – Yasmin Khadra

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