x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

To Algeria, with Love by Suzanne Ruta

Regrets and relationships past in a wryly compelling tone

Louise Berlin, a gregarious, naive Jewish New Yorker on a scholarship to France, falls in love with a married Algerian worker Ahmed Ouali, nicknamed Wally, in the winter of 1961.

Unable to keep the son she later has by him, she hands him over to Wally's care when he returns to his wife and family in Algeria. Forty years on, a chance encounter with an exiled Algerian author leads to a confessional as she vividly recalls their relationship and her regrets in letting both her lover and her son slip away.

Against a backdrop of war and racial tension between France and Algeria, the book moves seamlessly through Europe in the early 1960s and New York in the aftermath of September 11. Ruta's debut novel lyrically weaves religion, politics and class into a riveting retelling of an intense and highly charged, if somewhat over-romanticised, encounter.

While Wally's voice is never really heard, other than through Louise's narrow lens, her attempts to make amends for past mistakes as she enlists the writer's help make for compulsive reading, and her wry voice is a compelling one.