Cover Image: A Bookshop in Algiers

A Bookshop in Algiers

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This short, devastatingly moving book is one of the best I've read this year. This is a fictionalized account of Edmond Charlot and the influential bookstore/publishing house he set up in ALgiers, called 'Les Vraies Richesses'.  There are three distinct narrative strands-fictionalised diary entries of Edmond Charlot, a first person plural narrative set during Algeria's independence movement and one in the present, from the perspective of Ryad, who's there to close up the bookshop and clean up the space. Adimi moves seamlessly across the narratives, and it's very poignant-the picture you get, of the bookstore's rising and waning fortunes, and the struggles that Algeria as a country goes through. The diary entries skim through the years, chronicling the start of the bookshop and publishing house with that all that hope and spirit- Charlot wanted to publish works that were Mediterranean, not just French, including Algerian writers. The chapters about the bookstore and printing press, during the shortages of World war II, are fascinating to read, with Charlot and his team, at one instance, making ink from from grapeseed oil, boot polish and chimney soot. By the end of World War 2, the authors CHarlot had discovered were famous ( Camus, among others), and he was urged to move his business to Paris, and expand it. By then, however, larger publishers like Gallimard, were back in business and were too much competition, with their larger resources, than Les Vraies RIchesses. Camus switched loyalties too, to Gallimard, after one too many missed payments, and Charlot moved back, to an Algeria in a foment over independence. 
I haven't read about the Algerian independence movement otherwise, and Adimi explores that , in al  its horror but also inspiration, with accounts of courageous revolutionaries including the incredible story of Algerian footballers, who gave up a chance of playing for a World Cup for France, to form an FLN team and play for Algeria ( Rachid Mekhloufi deserves a separate book, and a biopic, just all to himself!). The bookstore was targeted by French colonial forces, and set on fire, along with the ALgerian National Library, as revenge for Charlot's views on Algeria's right to self-determination. Charlot left, and did not return to revive the bookstore, and it became absorbed into Algeria's university system, till it closed. I found the ending deeply affecting, with Ryad , in the present-day, continuing in Charlot's progressive tradition of literature as an arm of protest. This is a very rewarding book, and I only wish it were longer!
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CW: this book contains mentions of police brutality, violence and discrimination.

A Bookshop in Algiers is a quiet little book that manages to pack in quite a lot, offering a snapshot of Algerian history, the rich life of bookseller and publisher Edmond Charlot, and a powerful celebration of books all in one.

I had actually never heard of Edmond Charlot before picking up this book, and I was rather surprised to discover that he had worked closely and published books by so many well-known authors, chief among them Albert Camus. It really got me thinking about easy it is for someone's work to be forgotten and their contributions ignored, and how many more "Charlots" are out there that I have never known before. I love learning something new and being challenged by books, so in this A Bookshop in Algiers really hit the mark!

The narration was also interesting, as different chapters alternated excerpts from Charlot's (fictional) diary, snapshots of Algerian history, and young Ryad's work emptying the bookshop in modern Algeria. It took me a moment to get used to this format, but I soon got into it and really appreciated the extra depth it added without weighing down the book. The chapters on Algerian history, which were narrated in first person plural, were particularly interesting to me. I broadly knew of some of the events mentioned, but seeing them through the eyes of the Algerian people (which is who I interpreted to be the narrating "we") was completely new. The accounts of oppression and violence also took on special significance when read now, when so many similar conversations are happening in relation to other peoples (especially Palestinians).

It was also interesting to read about Charlot's experiences in publishing. I've never worked in the sector myself, so it was fascinating to read about everything that went on in the production of a book. Charlot himself was really compelling, a dreamer par excellence, and I really admired his perseverance and his ability to give the world so much despite facing so many difficulties. There was quite a lot of name dropping though and, with my limited knowledge of French authors, I actually struggled to keep up with everyone's names most of the time.

It's hard to go wrong with a book about books, and A Bookshop in Algiers is no exception. Masterfully bringing together the power of knowledge, the beauty of literature and books, and the importance of fighting for your dreams and your freedom, this is sure to appeal to lovers of history, historical fiction and literature, and all those who like to discover hidden little gems.
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I love books written by author from Maghreb as they tell stories we didn't heard before and add their view to the story.
A Bookshop in Algiers is a delightful, poignant and interesting read that made us travel in time and discover Edmond Charlot, a French-Algerian who founded a bookshop in Algiers. This is the story of his bookshop but also the story of a country and of people who played an important role in culture like Camus.
I loved the style of writing and loved this bitter-sweet story as the style of writing is excellent and the plot kept me hooked.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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A Bookshop in Algiers is a quiet, short, yet thoughtful work that pays homage not only to Edmond Charlot but to bookstores and publishing in general. Set against the backdrop of World War II and growing political unrest, it tells the history of both a man and a country, with the tiny bookstore as the pivotal point. The prose is simple but compelling, and I enjoyed the way the narrative switched perspectives, taking us back and forth in time. In particular, Charlot's diary worked well as a way to quickly summarise key events taking place both in Charlot's personal sphere and in the world at large. Considering it is such a short piece (160 pages on my e-reader, which I read in a single sitting), it packs a lot in, including a commentary on French involvement in Algiers and the country's eventual path to revolution, the role of printing in WWII, the lives of Charlot (and others like Camus). As such, this book will appeal to general readers of historical fiction as well as those who love to read about books and publishing. For me, the only negative point was Ryad, who I struggled to engage with as a character. However, the other aspects of the book more than made up for that, so overall I am giving it four stars.
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A bittersweet tale of a bookshop in Algiers . The story is told within the history of Algeria over 80 years  and from the birth to demise of a bookshop and library. The bookshop being the dream of Edmond Charlot ; his vision and journey of creating a publishing house and place where writers such as Camus and Expurey can meet is told through a series of diary excerpts against the backdrop of World War II and the independence war against the French. This version of events is juxtaposed with the travails of Ryad in 2016 who is charged with emptying the remains of the bookshop to be converted into a beignet shop. Ryad is not a reader and his attitude to books casts a shadow on how literature and published print could be viewed in the future . A fascinating historical tale that for a bibliophile left me full of admiration for the writers and publishers of the past but with a sense of concern that the young of today and tomorrow are prohibited in any form from discovering the love of books and reading.
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Such a poignant and quirky little book. This is a fast, but interesting read about a bookshop, books, and authors, but also about a city and the turbulences it went through. A university student arrives from Paris to close down a bookshop in Algiers, to get his internship over with. He has no interest in books, but after awhile he discovers the interesting life of Edmond Charlot, the man who established the bookshop in the 1930s. 

The book mixes past and present well, and digs deep into the mysteries of a city and its inhabitants. The quirky writers visiting the places lights up the book. There are both aspiring new talents, as well as famous authors like Camus. 

I enjoyed reading about the history of Algiers written from the point of view of these authors, and life in and around the bookshop. It was even more interesting to read about the good old profession of a bookseller, a unique profession that sadly looks like future generations will have to learn about only from books.
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A Bookshop in Algiers is a multiple award-winning work of historical fiction about the beauty of books and the sanctity of freedom. Algiers, 2017. Ryad, a lazy 20-year-old university student in Paris, arrives in Algiers intending to complete his internship, which consists of a thankless task: emptying and closing The True Wealth bookstore and disposing of all of the books. This dusty four by seven metre shop, crammed with yellowed volumes, faded photos, paintings and a thousand other editorial relics, hides the story of an exceptional human and literary adventure, guarded by its last witness, the mysterious Abdallah. Ryad does not like reading and is almost afraid of writing; for him, books are just a source of mites and dust. Thus, he sees this experience as an unpleasant task that is imposed on him. However, once installed in the bookstore, the young man inevitably immerses himself in the immensely evocative atmosphere of the place and, through books with yellowed pages, whose stacks cram into the tiny space, and the countless faded photos still hanging on the walls, he gradually discovers the exceptional human experience of Edmond Charlot. 

Algiers, 1936. Edmond Charlot, an enthusiastic 20-year-old, returns home after a trip to Paris with a great idea in mind: to found a bookshop-publishing house that publishes writers from both shores of the Mediterranean, regardless of language, nationality or religion. Supported by a community of talents and affections, he opens a hybrid and welcoming place at 2 Bis of the Rue Charras that soon becomes the seat of the mythical Éditions Charlot, frequented by an extraordinary group of aspiring writers as well as by figures of the calibre of Albert Camus, Jean Giono, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and André Gide. From that passionate little room, entitled to the "true riches" of life, the first editions of memorable texts come out, including the debut of young genius Camus. In this experience, Ryad is accompanied by old Abdallah, the last bookseller of The True Wealth, a kind of spiritual guide who refuses to leave the place. This is a captivating, uplifting and richly atmospheric read which uses Edmond Charlot's diaries as a guiding thread. 

Mixing past and present, reality and invention, history and intimate everyday life, Kaouther Adimi leads us with finesse and simplicity through the alleys of an imaginative city and gives life to the novel of a ferryman of books and ideas who was, perhaps without knowing it, the secret creator of much of the best literature of the twentieth century. With her award-winning novel, the young Algerian author succeeds in paying homage to literature and being an outstanding sponsor. In a fictional diary, she sketches Edmond Charlot's eventful life in a lifelike and sensitive manner and tells of a politically and culturally closely interwoven and at the same time torn Mediterranean region in a turbulent time. And it ties in with the present, where Charlot's world of literature can be rediscovered. It explores the history of Algeria and, above all, a profession that cannot be understood without the love of books and that is fundamental for the survival of literature. Highly recommended to literature connoisseurs and those who enjoy basking in the light of other cultures.
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Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an early review copy. 

Although I did enjoy reading this book. 

It just wasn’t for me.
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