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The Angels Die by Yasmina Khadra
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The Angels Die (2013)

by Yasmina Khadra

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English (5)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (1)  All (8)
Showing 5 of 5
I have long been a fan of Yasmina Khadra, whose books usually give one a realistic look at Arab culture and family life, alongside the cultural oppression and fundamental extremism that has saturated their daily lives. This book takes us back a bit further than others I have read.

The Angels Die is set in 1920s and 1930s Algeria during a time when French colonials ruled over the Arab nation and the native population has been decimated by a century of bloody conquest and rampant disease. Those born in Algeria are treated as if they are foreigners in their own land. The French live in luxury while the Algerians live in squalor.

Twenty-seven year old Turambo grew up in a shanty town in Oran. Turambo tells us of his life growing up in Oran where he constantly rages at the unfairness of life. But Turambo’s willful spirit doesn’t allow him to give up his dream of a better future. At home, he is embarrassed by and resentful of his father, while he longs for an unspoken but promising love with his cousin Nora. When Turambo finds an unlikely friend in a French boy, Gino, who cares for a sick mother, he begins to take refuge from his life in Gino’s apartment. As Turambo grows from a boy to a man, he is sure that his chance to become a boxer is his way out of the harsh life he was brought up in. He will make a success of himself, win the girl he loves and show the oppressors that Algerians are a proud and indomitable people. But Turambo’s rage at all the inequities of the world could very well cause him to be his own worst enemy.

Maybe you can tell that this book caused me to take a little look at the history of Algeria. Khadra continues to educate me each time I read one of his books. The history of Algeria is both tragedy and triumph at different times as is so much of the world. IMHO, we need to continue translating all authors of this caliber.

I want to thank the publisher (Gallic Books) for providing me with the ARC through NetGalley for an honest review. ( )
  sherribelcher | Aug 16, 2017 |
"Blows were part of life; they were the price of perseverance."

Having previously read two of Yasmina Khadra's books, I knew this was not going to be cheerful reading, but as the author is attending our literary festival in March, I decided this was a good opportunity to read his latest book.

It is set in Algeria between the two world wars, during a time of colonial rule.
It was quite an eye-opener to realise that the native Arabs were quite so low in this artificial caste system and in their own country, at this time.

Turambo's village had been washed away in a landslide, many of its inhabitants lost and all the animals dead. He moved to the city with his mother, aunt and teenage uncle, who became head of the family, being the oldest male. They were cripplingly poor but managed to scrape enough together by baking. Turambo tries to get work but he was not very successful - what he was good at though, was boxing. Originally used in self defense, a talent scout saw him in action and offered to train him in his gym. Thus Turambo rose to fame - but still he was just a pawn in someone else's game, racism, it seemed, affected even the famous.

The end of the book, which explains how Turambo came to be in prison facing the guillotine, was not what I'd expected and I'm still not sure what I feel about this ending - other than very sad :(

I found myself reading this at the same time as Yalo by Elias Khoury, both books had a young man imprisoned and going back over how they'd arrived at this point, one in Algeria, the other in Lebanon, so I put this one down to concentrate on Yalo. I'm glad I did, as reading the two together was confusing, and this was by far the better read for me.

Also read:
The Swallows of Kabul (4 stars)
The Attack (4 stars) ( )
  DubaiReader | Jan 5, 2017 |
The Angels Die is set in Algeria between the two world wars. It tells the story of Turambo, a young, poor Arab boy who grows up to be a promising boxer. It is narrated by Turambo and begins when he is in prison, awaiting execution.

Turambo grows up with his mother, uncle and his family. His own father is absent after he went to fight in World War One. The early part of the book is a series of increasingly bleak vignettes showing the poverty and cruelty that Turambo experiences in the slums. It was hard to stay focused without a narrative but the story begins to flow as Turambo reaches adolescence, when he and his friend Sid Roho run away to the city of Oran.

Life in Oran remains tough but Turambo at least sees possibilities, that life can be different from the slums. He forms a significant friendship with a boy called Gino. In the city he experiences different cultures – and prejudices. He meets Europeans (‘Roumis’) of various nationalities, experiences racism against Arabs and sees the ambiguous status of Gino, who is of Italian descent but Jewish.

Turambo takes a number of menial jobs but his temper gets him into trouble. His refusal to accept low-paid work and humiliation and his willingness to stand and fight win him the chance to train as a boxer. Life opens up for him but he faces new challenges and ultimately finds himself in prison.

Turambo kicks against the limited opportunities offered to him, and this is one of the key themes of the book. You can admire his spirit, for insisting on making choices where it appears that none exist, or you can see his behaviour as self-destructive. Neither the risk takers like Sid Roho, nor conformists like Turambo’s uncle, find peace and security. Perhaps Turambo’s nature means he couldn’t behave differently, but even if he could there are no success stories in his life for him to emulate.

The Angels Die asks profound questions about choice and fate, about the subtle and overt ways people are constrained, and about why some submit and some fight.
*
I received a copy of The Angels Die from the publisher via Netgalley.
This review first appeared on my blog https://katevane.wordpress.com/ ( )
  KateVane | Dec 26, 2016 |
Turambo, an Algerian, is awaiting execution.
This is his story, of what the circumstances were that led him to his fate.
Just an OK story for me unfortunately.
I was given a digital copy of this book by the publisher Gallic Books via Netgalley in return for an honest unbiased review. ( )
  Welsh_eileen2 | Sep 1, 2016 |
The Angels Die opens with Turambo, the narrator and hero of our story, preparing for his execution by guillotine. It is written by Yasmin Khadra, who has written more than twenty novels. This is the story of Turambo’s rise and fall, from absolute poverty to fame and fortune to the guillotine. Well, that’s the storyline. It’s really about the destructive power of poverty, oppression and racism.

The Angels Die is organized in three parts, each centered on a different woman with whom he falls in love. The first is his cousin Nora, the second a prostitute named Aida and the last, Irene, the first woman who actually loves him back. Turambo, like many men, seems to think that if he loves a woman, they must love him and will fall gratefully in his arms the moment he tells them of his great love. He is repeatedly surprised.

“Dreams are a poor man’s guardian, and his destruction.
They take us by the hand, walks us through a thousand promises,
then leave us whenever they want.”

Turambo and his family were displaced by a massive flood that destroyed his village. It was probably the Mostaganem flood of 1927 which killed more than two thousand Algerians. His name is not really Turambo, it’s a nickname that comes from the name of his village that has been buried in silt. There is an irony in this name, but to tell you would be a spoiler. Not that it spoils the plot, but that moment of realization is quite poignant and should not be taken away from the reader. He is an Algerian Arab whose country was under French colonial rule. It takes his family most of his childhood to climb out of absolute destitution to respectable poverty.

“I had no way of knowing that when charitable people intervene
to save your skin, they don’t necessarily plan
to leave any of it on your back.”

Turambo has a talent for making good friends, but not much else. He loses the jobs he gets and is often fired for losing his temper. He has a strong left hook which eventually brings him to the attention of a boxing trainer and promoter and sure enough, that is the one sphere in which he can succeed. However, during his struggle to boxing success, he is repeatedly confronted by anti-Arab racism. While it angers him, he never seems to connect it to something larger than himself.

“The sea is a font where all the prayers
that don’t reach the Lord fall as tears.”

Turambo is an angry man, with good reason. The world is unjust and he and his people are oppressed and insulted daily. The racism is flagrant and cruel. As Khadra put it, his “people could still cling to the flotsam, but they weren’t allowed on board the ship.” Still, his anger seems more generalized, more a character flaw than a righteous anger inspired by injustice.

Turambo is illiterate and uneducated, so it’s no surprise that he does not connect his struggle to the larger struggle of his people. Khadra uses the device of an encounter with someone from the Association of Muslim Students to draw attention to the political context, but Turambo has never heard of them.

“I have a feeling that we never die completely until
we have consumed all our memories,
that death is the ultimate forgetting.”

Khadra is a painstaking prose stylist. He writes sentences that beg to be carefully lettered and illuminated on parchment, framed and placed on the wall. Characters offer short soliloquies on the meaning of life that seem crafted more for critical discussion in a classroom than something a living, breathing person would say. There is this disconnect between the narrator’s actual life experience and the words that come from his mouth. We have this unlettered, uneducated boxer who speaks as though he has a graduate degree in literature.

Do you know why we no longer embody anything but our old demons?
It is because the angels have died of our wounds.

So yes, the prose is beautiful, the story is interesting and informative and provides insight into colonial Algeria and the experience of people living under the boot of French oppression. I should loved it, I expected to love it, but I did not.

I did not like Turambo. He seemed incapable of true empathy. He was often flat out thick as a post, as in the deal he made with someone to find him jobs in exchange for half his earnings. And yes, intellectually, I know that Khadra is deliberately making an unlikable protagonist to push us into thinking more clearly about how oppression brutalizes humanity. Still, I feel a visceral dislike of the character, not so much for his anger at the outside world, but for his attitude toward the women he thinks he loves.

Three times he fell in love and three times he expected the women to be grateful and reciprocate. Three times the women asserted their independence and agency and yet, he never really got it. Even when he does come to recognize what Irene was telling him about boxing, he still does not recognize that other people outside himself have motivations, needs and demands that do not center on him.

Khadra has a lot to say about racism, colonialism, women in Islam and how we make our way in the world. I will make a point of reading another of his books, perhaps The Swallows of Kabul, which sounds fascinating, though again with an unlikable protagonist.

The Angels Die will be released on August 15th. It is published by Gallic Books which specializes in bringing the best French contemporary literature into English.

I received an advance e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.

https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2016/07/15/the-angels-die/ ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Jul 15, 2016 |
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When young Turambo and his family leave the ghetto for a new life in Oran, the future seems full of possibilities. But colonial Algeria is no place for an ambitious Arab-Berber, and Turambo can only find menial jobs without prospects. Then out of the blue, his impressive left hook opens the way to a boxing apprenticeship. With a chance at success finally within reach, can Turambo achieve sporting greatness and still remain true to himself?… (more)

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