New Internationalist

The Star of Algiers

Issue 395

Aziz Chouaki’s novel, first published in France in 2002, is an eloquent and scathing attack on the damage done to the fabric of society by fundamentalisms of both the religious and political varieties. The book is set amid the turmoil of 1990s Algeria and the central character is Mouassa Massy, a talented singer who combines traditional melodies with modern pop. Mouassa dreams of becoming an international star and escaping the grinding squalor of his life in Algiers, where he shares three rooms with 13 members of his family. Mouassa’s big break comes when he is booked to sing at one of the city’s most prestigious nightclubs and he is tantalizingly close to realizing his goal. However, his progress has been dogged by the rise of the Islamic fundamentalist party, the FIS – scathingly referred to by Mouassa as ‘the beards’ – and their election victory triggers a military crackdown, martial law and escalating violence. The tiny space between religious intolerance and authoritarian reaction in which Mouassa has been living is snuffed out. Algeria’s descent into bloody civil strife is mirrored in Mouassa’s life; no longer a rising star with a glittering future, he topples into a netherworld of drink, drugs and apathy. A desperate attempt to flee the country leads to murder, imprisonment and the surprising, but entirely logical, emergence of a new Mouassa, that of zealot in the fundamentalist cause. The Star of Algiers is a short, brilliant book with enormous relevance to current crises. In clipped, demotic prose it chillingly lays bare the desperate measures to which people resort when hope is killed.

Peter Whittaker

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