Set in Morocco from 1944, this beautiful, brutal novel bristles with a young French woman’s loves, losses, conflicts and desires, and with the complexities of colonialism and war.
Beginning as a young French woman moves to Morocco after WWII, Leila Slimani’s The Country of Others, the first in a trilogy, parallels a personal struggle to lead a free life with a nation’s fight for independence. It’s a beautiful, immersive story of conflicts between genders, cultures, classes and generations that sweeps you into its lyrical detail and honesty.
After the Liberation, a free-spirited French woman leaves Alsace for a new life with Amine, her Moroccan husband, who’d served as a soldier in France. As Mathilde later explains (the novel is not strictly chronological — episodes from the past are related through perfectly-placed recollections), “She’d been walled up for four years with no new clothes to wear, no new books to read, and Amine was the answer to all her payers. She was nineteen and hungry for life and the war had taken it from her”.
Mathilde’s initial optimism at being greeted by her husband, who looked “more handsome than ever, under a sky so profoundly blue that it looked as though it had been washed in the sea”, soon sours. As Amine struggles to make a success of his farm, Mathilde is scorned by the French community for marrying a Moroccan, with their daughter mocked at school for her hair and old clothes.
Amine is also tangled in conflicts. As Morocco’s fight for independence intensifies, he feels solidarity with his workers. But, as a landowner, he’s not one of them, and as a Moroccan he’s reviled by the French. And, while he adores his French wife, he’s prone to treating her badly and feels ashamed of her refusal to be subjugated: “What madness was this? How could he have thought he’d be able to live with a European woman as emancipated as Mathilde?”
Despite these differences, husband and wife “shared the same aspirations for the progress of mankind: less hunger, less pain. They were both passionate about modernity”, but the political climate increasingly threatens to destabilise what firm ground they have. Brilliantly translated from French by Sam Taylor, this novel crackles with love and resilience.
1944. After the Liberation, Mathilde leaves France to join her husband in Morocco.
But life here is unrecognisable to this brave and passionate young woman. Her life is now that of a farmer's wife - with all the sacrifices and vexations that brings. Suffocated by the heat, by her loneliness on the farm and by the mistrust she inspires as a foreigner, Mathilde grows increasingly restless.
As Morocco's struggle for independence intensifies, Mathilde and her husband find themselves caught in the crossfire.
From the internationally bestselling author, The Country of Others is perfect for fans of Elena Ferrante, Tracy Chevalier, and Maggie O'Farrell.
|Publication date:||19th May 2022|
|Publisher:||Faber & Faber|
|Primary Genre||Literary Fiction|
Leïla Slimani is the author of Adèle, Sex and Lies and Lullaby, which made Slimani the first Moroccan woman to win France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. A journalist and frequent commentator on women’s and human rights, she is French president Emmanuel Macron’s personal representative for the promotion of the French language and culture. Born in Rabat, Morocco, in 1981, she lives in Paris with her French husband and their two young children.More About Leïla Slimani