Savages: The Wedding by Sabri Louatah

Savages: The Wedding is the first instalment in Sabri Louatah’s Saint-Etienne Quartet, a cycle of political dramas centring on an Algerian family in that region of central France. The novel opens on the wedding day of two young third-generation French Algerians, which also happens to be the day of the French Presidential elections, at which France’s first Arab candidate is tipped to win an historic vote. The Nerrouche family has both distant and close links to the charismatic would-be President, and this dialogue-heavy novel focuses in on the diverging opinions about what role an Arab, specifically Algerian, head of state would play in the lives of marginalised families throughout France.

As is typical of French and Italian political novels, Savages is not afraid to weave discourse and dogma through the plot, which could be challenging for readers unfamiliar with European politics and its obsession with the boundaries of Left, Right and Centre. It is, however, interesting and thought provoking to read, as an Australian, about debates around racism and colonialism happening overseas. Savages, which begins in 2005, feels intensely contemporary, recalling American and British political upheavals of 2016–17 and full of media and technology, as well as a modern concern with terrorism and political dog-whistling. In this regard, it will be intriguing to local readers who have enjoyed the political fiction and non-fiction published in the last twelve months.

Despite its complex factual context, Savages reads mostly like a melodrama – tense, quick, gossipy, shifting between a large cast of characters as the lead up to and aftershock from the assassination of the controversial candidate propels the novel forward. Louatah leaves the story on a cliffhanger – and if the hype is true readers in the northern hemisphere are well and truly addicted. Press compares Louatah’s work to Elena Ferrante; I would say that it is more of a political thriller with less of the interiority which typifies Ferrante’s novels. In this way it has broader appeal to an audience that likes its juicy novels to be fast-paced and action-packed without scrimping on substance or dangerous ideas.

George Delaney is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kids.