A young man, Koussaila, recounts the awakening of his unbridled sexuality in the arms of older women. In the closed world of suppressed desire in 1960s Algeria, he goes from the arms of his aunt to the schoolmaster’s wife to those of a nun he meets in a cemetery. In a climate of mounting political unrest, Koussaila continues on his chaotic path of desire, self-disgust, women, and sex, attempting in vain to uproot his innermost self, torn between the world of Islam (in the pages of the Koran) and that of “Roumis.” One day, however, he will be forced to choose. War, intolerance, and Islamic fanaticism are looming on the horizon.
Today, we see increasing focus on the impact Islamic nations have on the Western world, and the struggle between conservative and nationalist Islamic strands in Eastern countries. This is a novel that challenges established Islamic thought, and its radicalism in descriptions of sexuality across the generations will be of huge interest. Its influence could well be similar to that of The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany. This is a beautifully written erotic novel, translated from the French by Frank Wynne, the prize-winning translator of Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised and Platform.
Amin Zaoui is a writer and bilingual scholar (Arabic and French). He is currently in charge of the National Library in Algiers, and is the author of five novels that have been translated into a dozen languages, but never before into English.