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The Star of Algiers: A Novel Paperback – December 23, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A young contemporary singer is caught in the political crossfire when a repressive Islamic regime seizes power in Algeria in Chouaki's first novel to be translated into English. Moussa Massy is the stage name of the talented first-person narrator, who dreams of stardom, his music a blend of Islamic melodies, African traditions and American pop influences. Moussa's dream comes true when his band begins climbing the local club ladder, and one of his songs hits the local charts and begins getting radio airplay. But darkly parallel to Moussa's rise is the ascent of the FIS, a Taliban-like Muslim party that uses brutality to enforce religious conformity. The effects are instantly deadly to Moussa's ambitions, as the thriving local club scene goes sour and the singer's creative friends scramble to get visas and leave the country. Chouaki's staccato, rapid-fire prose style works perfectly in the scenes designed to convey Moussa's frustration as his musical career stalls, his girlfriend leaves him for an arranged marriage and he struggles desperately to emigrate to France. But that same style seems too brisk in the final chapters as Chouaki sprints through Moussa's descent into drugs and alcohol and reveals his shocking final fate. Still, the novel's gripping narrative and political relevance make this a revelatory read.
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From Booklist

Chouaki, an Algerian now living in Paris, has crafted an alter ego who becomes inextricably trapped in the political miasma of Algiers in the 1990s. Moussa Massy is a young man frustrated at his inability to make it on his own--he still lives in a three-room apartment with 13 other family members. He finally gains some recognition as a singer of traditional Kabyle music with a Michael Jackson twist, but his career is quickly stifled by increasingly powerful Islamic fundamentalists. The country becomes "one huge pile of rubbish sitting on top of a powder keg," in a friend's words. When the explosion finally occurs, all his friends leave for France, Canada, Morocco, wherever they can get a visa. But Moussa is stuck, and slowly goes mad. Gripped by depression and drugs, he loses touch with what is going on around him. Chouaki's use of clipped dialogue and disjointed sentences perfectly matches Moussa's frantic attempt to escape the tightening clutches of Fundamentalism, deeply involving the reader in his doomed struggle. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition edition (January 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555974120
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555974121
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.6 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #612,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By JAK on February 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
This a terrific novel that deserves to be much better known than it is .It is the only novel I've read dealing with Algierias' terrible civil war .It captures the mind of a person who becomes a religious fanatic, murderer.What grabs you is he is shown to have been ,by western standards, a normal person until a series of misfortunes and mishaps drive him to seek refuge in an awful certainty that makes killing natural and right.It is one of those books that should make you think a little about whether -and I'm putting this mildly- the religous sensibility is a positive force in modern society.The author draws a vibrant , exciting portrait of his country that is both exotic to the westerner and utterly familiar.You know these people quite well.They may speak Arabic but they are all too like your neighbors.
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Format: Paperback
You often see novels promoted as having a rock 'n roll feel or sensibility, but it's not often you read one that has an actual rock 'n roll beat to it. More specifically, a nasty, angry punk rock beat. The Star of Algiers is set in Algeria in 1990-91, just on cusp of the Algerian civil war. The Algiers we see, feel and smell in this novel is, in keeping with the rock 'n roll theme, a mosh pit of a city; dirty, noisy, smelly, overcrowded, and often drunk and/or stoned.

The main character is Moussa, a man in his 30s who shares a three-room apartment with his extended family of fourteen people in a slum district of Algiers. Moussa's ticket out of anonymity and poverty is music; he's a Kabyle singer, which is, it seems, a popular Algerian folk music. But Moussa has aspirations beyond being a successful wedding singer; he constantly reminds himself and others that he's very influenced by Prince and Michael Jackson and wants, in some ill-defined way, to be their Algerian equal.

Moussa's talent is genuine, and he begins to rise in the local music scene against a backdrop of his city and country collapsing into chaos and civil war. Inevitably, as in many rock 'n roll fables,
Moussa descent is fast and furious, and ends with him turning into a militant and bloodthirsty Islamist.

While Moussa is more a symbol than a character, he's an effective guide through the hell of Algiers. On one side is the urban elite: educated, French-speaking, affluent, defining themselves by their Westerness. On the other side are the Islamists, or "beards" as Moussa dismissively calls them. These are men who've embraced religious fanaticism as an unconscious protest against the crushing poverty and corruption of Algeria, and will soon go to war against the one-party government.
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