‘If you’re in a bookshop browsing, then A Bookshop In Algiers is for you, by definition. A beautiful little novel about books, history, ambition and the importance of literature to everyone, especially people who are trying to find a voice.’ Nick Hornby
In 1936, a young dreamer named Edmond Charlot opened a modest bookshop in Algiers. Once the heart of Algerian cultural life, where Camus launched his first book and the Free French printed propaganda during the war, Charlot’s beloved bookshop has been closed for decades, living on as a government lending library. Now it is to be shuttered forever. But as a young man named Ryad empties it of its books, he begins to understand that a bookshop can be much more than just a shop that sells books.
A Bookshop in Algiers charts the changing fortunes of Charlot’s bookshop through the political drama of Algeria’s turbulent twentieth century of war, revolution and independence. It is a moving celebration of books, bookshops and of those who dare to dream.
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.