James Bradley

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Sav­ages — The St Eti­enne Quar­tet, Vol­ume 1: The Wed­ding By Sabri Louatah Cor­sair, 246pp, $29.99 Sav­ages — The St Eti­enne Quar­tet, Vol­ume 2: The Spec­tre By Sabri Louatah Cor­sair, 387pp, $29.99 (PB)

When Sabri Louatah’s St Eti­enne Quar­tet was first pub­lished in France in 2011, the world was a very dif­fer­ent place. Europe and the US were still grap­pling with the worst ef­fects of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. The Arab Spring was in full swing. Europe was frac­tured but still largely in­tact. Yet the se­ries’ por­trait of a France thrown into tur­moil by the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of the coun­try’s first Arab pres­i­dent struck a chord, cat­a­pult­ing the books and their hith­erto un­known au­thor to the top of the best­seller charts.

Why it’s taken seven years for the se­ries to ap­pear in English is any­body’s guess. What­ever the rea­son, it ar­rives at a time when the fault lines of 2011 have be­come tec­tonic rifts. Don­ald Trump is in the White House. The na­tion­al­ist Right is on the rise around the world. Europe is dis­in­te­grat­ing. And the ter­ror­ist at­tack at the book’s cen­tre no longer feels like a chill­ing glimpse of the day af­ter to­mor­row; in­stead, it may well be the next item in your Twit­ter feed. The first book in the se­ries, The Wed­ding, which was pub­lished in Aus­tralia in Jan­uary, opens the day be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Af­ter a long and bruis­ing cam­paign, France is on the brink of elect­ing Id­der Chaouch. Like Barack Obama, on whom he is slightly too trans­par­ently based, Chaouch is a daz­zling fig­ure — hand­some, charm­ing, in­tel­lec­tu­ally ac­com­plished and prone to burst­ing into song at a mo­ment’s no­tice. He is also of Al­ge­rian de­scent, a fact that lends his can­di­dacy a deeply charged dual sym­bol­ism. As his Jewish wife Es­ther ex­claims in ex­as­per­a­tion early in the book, “Half of the coun­try hates us — half of the coun­try thinks you’re not even French!”

As Chaouch and his ret­inue re­turn to Paris in prepa­ra­tion for the next day’s elec­tion, the Ner­rouche fam­ily’s friends and rel­a­tives are gath­er­ing in the in­dus­trial city of St Eti­enne, ready to cel­e­brate the wed­ding of the fam­ily’s youngest son, Slim. Like Chaouch the Ner­rouches are Al­ge­rian, and although they are sep­a­rated from the man who looks likely to be France’s next pres­i­dent by both class and cir­cum­stance, the two fam­i­lies are con­nected through the Ner­rouches’ mid­dle son, Fouad, the ris­ing star of a pop­u­lar soap opera and Chaouch’s daugh­ter’s boyfriend.

But Fouad is not the only con­nec­tion be­tween the Ner­rouches and Chaouch. For as be­comes clear as the wed­ding cel­e­bra­tions de­scend into dis­or­der and re­crim­i­na­tion, the el­dest Ner­rouche son, Nazir, is or­ches­trat­ing a plot to kill Chaouch and throw the coun­try into chaos. Nazir’s agent in this scheme is the un­for­tu­nate Krim, a young cousin of the Ner­rouches whose petty crimes have put him in Nazir’s debt.

Shift­ing rest­lessly be­tween a tan­gle of plot­lines in­volv­ing the frac­tured Ner­rouche fam­ily and their rel­a­tives, The Wed­ding has a febrile

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.