Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Review: Autumn of the Phantoms. Yasmina Khadra. Translated from French by Aubrey Botsford. New Milford CT: Toby Press, 2005. Paperback: ISBN: 1 59264 143 1 8
"Do you seriously take yourself for a novelist, Llob?" With the tip of his carefully manicured finger, he pushes my work away from him as though it were a piece of garbage: "This grotesque pamphlet is unequalled except by the lowness of its author. In striving to ridicule your society, you've only managed to reduce the scant respect I thought I had for you."
Critics, it seems, are where you find them. For the detective novelist Brahim Llob, the speaker is his Boss. After a few minutes added vitriol, the writer-detective is "retired" and the reader is launched into Llob's story as his career winds its way fitfully to its first-person finis.
Autumn of the Phantoms follows the aftermath of Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra's first novel, Morituri, also featuring detective Llob. That Llob's troubles in Phantoms arise from Khadra's first book not only adds to the enjoyment of this second novel, a conscientious reader will feel compelled to find the first of this pair of Llob stories published by Toby Crime.
Translated work comes with its own set of issues. One conclusion I hold is I'm not reading the original author but the work of the translator. Not that the original doesn't set the framework, but one has to be mindful of the two writers at work in appreciating the uses of language that mark a writer's skill.
And skill abounds in this novel, in small passages and in the whole sweep of the story. I enjoy such swipes as Llob's description of a corrupt banker, where he notes, We got to know each other during an interrogation he's not about to forgive me. Stunted as a milestone, sinister and nasty, he's more likely to take on a risky loan than smile at a stranger.
Readers, whose experience with French colonial literature like The Stranger gave them a sense of place, will enjoy revisiting the scenes of their youthful reading to see what has happened long after Merseault last set foot on that beach.
Who knows that Llob's Algiers doesn't represent our own future? Terrorism and insurgency are second-nature in the city. In one incident, Llob observes matter-of-factly that his trip across town was delayed twenty minutes because of a big shoot-out between police and terrorists. A social event hardly stops when a huge explosion across town raises a pillar of smoke seen from the fancy ballroom.
Ay 'sta 'til next week. Have a comment, or a title to recommend? Please, leave a comment.
Hay les wachamos until next week,