The Angels Die by Yasmina Khadra

The Angels Die by Yasmina Khadra is a tragic story set in Algeria between the two world wars.

It follows the life of Turambo, a poor Algerian boy who grows up in the countryside and dreams of a better future.  After a time, his family moves to Oran – a whole new world for Turambo that is full of possibilities. He quickly learns that this new world is no different than his old stomping grounds – racism and colonialism reign even stronger in the city.

Despite some setbacks, Turambo is noticed for his fighting abilities. A high-profile sponsor picks him and Turambo uses boxing as a way to lift himself up. His anger at the injustices he sees – overt racism toward the Arab-Berbers; haughty colonialism of the French occupiers; and punishing behavior among the poor – fuel him in his fights. Along the way, he makes some friends and loses others.

The book is divided into three parts – each named after a woman that Turambo loves at some point. As with his interactions with Europeans, Turambo is constantly being disappointed in his love interests. Most of them turn him away for one reason or another. His last love interest accepts him for who he is.

Khadra captures Turambo’s guttural feelings for his surroundings – whether they are in the ring entertaining Europeans or in the brothel. Her descriptions leap from the page and engage the reader. For example, through Turambo, Khadra shines her writing skills on the boxing ring. The fighters are used until they either lose or are too battered to continue their career. In this brutal world, she raises Turambo above the norm and has him excel.

A good look at colonial Algeria from the perspective of an Arab-Berber.

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