The Angels Die – Yasmina Khadra

“Dreams are a poor man’s guardian, and its destruction. They take us by the hand, walk us through a thousand promises, then leave us whenever they want. Dreams are clever; dreams understand psychology; they accept our feelings just as we take an inveterate liar at his word, but when we entrust our hearts and minds to them, they give us the slip just when things are going badly, and we find ourselves with a void in our head and a hole in our chest – all we have left is eyes to weep.”

Mohammed Moulessehoul is an Algerian author, who took his wife’s name as his pseudonym to avoid military censorship on his books. His books are set in the very volatile middle east but are stories of love and friendship and relationship amidst the conflict and the chaos – which is what gives them colour and a unique character. He will let the religious and political turmoil active at peripheral level, which his characters are aware of, impacted by but it’s about their lives inspite of. In this book, we encounter the east and west conflict as a way of life in Algeria.

The Angels Die is set in a port city of Oran, in Algeria and is a story of life, of love, of regrets and honour. Turambo, our protagonist is ready for the guillotine and awaiting his execution, when his whole life of 27 years flashes before his eyes. This is his story, story of his poverty-stricken childhood, his disillusions, his desires, success that comes his way and how it goes away soon enough. Turambo, whose real name is Amayas (which we won’t know until the later part of the book) belongs to a devout Muslim family, who is struggling to make ends meet. In his young life, he has seen his war veteran father abandon his family, his mother working to make ends meet, he has learned all sorts of work to bring some money home at the end of the day.

“Luck is like youth. Everyone has his share. Some grab it on the wing, others let it slip through their fingers, and others are still waiting for it when its long past….what did i do with mine?

The story takes a more interesting turn once he reaches the city of Oran with his family. Here Turambo’s luck turns in his favour after the initial struggles. He is discovered and taken over as a boxing protegĂ© by a Gym owner. Hard work and sheer determination paves his way to success and we see him going on to become the North African champion. This is a story of a boy, who inspite of the money and the fame thrown his way, is looking for love. Its his need to be loved that ultimately leads to the change in his circumstances. He has just announced his intention to give up boxing, so that he could marry the woman he loved – because she refused to marry a boxer. Turambo’s decision is not taken well by his sponsor and his manager, who are dependent on him for their earnings. When he discovers that Irene has been murdered, he goes mental and finds himself in police custody accused of a murder he does not remember committing.

In the end we find that luck did a number on him, saving him from execution but rendering him in a vegetable state – thus leading to change in his sentence to life imprisonment. He recovers but is never the same. When he comes out at the age of fifty-two, the world has changed and he finds himself leading a meaningless, aimless life.

“Let no one talk of miracles; what’s a miracle in a hospital room with no light? I’ve drawn a line under my joys and made peace with my sorrows; I’m good and ready. When memory weighs on the present, replacing the daylight being born at our window every morning, it must mean that the clock has decided that our time has come. We learn then to close our eyes on the few reflexes we still have and be alone with ourselves; in other words, with someone who becomes elusive to us as we accustom ourselves to his silences, then to his distances, until the big sleep takes us away from the chaos of all things.”

It’s a very beautiful book. Swallows of Kabul, though still remains my favourite till date.

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