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