Thursday, March 25, 2021

Sirocco - A French Girl Comes of Age in War-Torn Algeria

Full disclosure: Danielle Dahl, the author of the book I’m about to review and praise, is a member of the Upstate South Carolina Sisters in Crime chapter. She speaks with a pronounced French accent which I love listening to. I tell you this because she wrote her book in English, and it left me in awe of her command of her second language. I’ve read books by authors writing in English, their native tongue, who don’t write nearly as well. Ms. Dahl paints pictures with her words, and once you start reading, you are there, experiencing the joys, fears, and horrors of the time. Besides being a family saga, it is a history lesson that reverberates to this day, not only in Algeria but in many countries around the world fighting for their independence from warlords and dictators. It is a lesson to heed, but as we know too well, history repeats itself, and the world doesn’t listen.

Her book, Sirocco, is subtitled A French Girl Comes of Age in War-Torn Algeria, and it reads more like a novel than a first-person memoir, with dialogue, characters, and vignettes that put the reader in 1954 Algeria as it fights for its independence from France. We get to know Nanna, Danielle’s name in the book, and her family, especially her strong-willed Papa, as they, along with other French settlers, must choose between the suitcase or the grave.

I will write a bit of the prologue so you can enjoy the imagery and the meaning of the title, Sirocco.

“A tremor shook the soaring rock and its crowning city. A shudder as familiar to Constantine and its dwellers as the searing Sirocco wind that, in season, blew howling sand from the Sahara Desert, hundreds of miles south. Then, as abruptly as it started, the quake rumbled away and the city settled in its limestone bed as if nothing had happened. Fooling no one.

“Everyone knew―the Berber boy herding his goats, in the searing North African sun, the Muezzin in the Kasbah, calling the day’s prayers, the Synagogue’s Cantor striking his mournful chants and, certainly, ten-year-old Nanna riding in the back seat of the family car―everyone knew that “Évènements” had been set in motion.

“Events that would revive Constantine’s eons-old tradition of seesawing between peace and war, abundance and devastation. Numidians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals. Arab and Berber dynasties. All had ruled her. But she endured and, one hundred and sixteen years after the French wrestled her from the Turks, Constantine still commanded the vast western plain, the chasm of the Rhumel River, and the four eastern bridges that anchored her to the land across the gorges.”

Memoirs are usually someone’s story of self-aggrandizement―how he or she became famous and why we should know about it. Moreover, why we should care. Danielle’s book is a story of survival. It is funny, sad, and frightening, but most of all it is personal. Isn’t that what a memoir should be?

I know she translated the story into French and is writing the next installment, Mistral. I, for one, look forward to reading it.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

12 comments :

  1. Having struggled to learn a second language as a great-grandmother, I find her ability to write so eloquently in English, not her native tongue, to be quite extraordinary. This is a fabulous post and a strong incentive to read Sïrocco, Polly. Thank you for introducing me to Danielle A. Dahl.

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    1. It's a wonderful book, Linda. I only wish I could write as well.

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  2. This sounds amazing and the excerpt sings!

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    1. I thought I posted a link. Here it is: https://www.amazon.com/Sirocco-French-Comes-War-Torn-Algeria-ebook/dp/B00HQ693S6/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=DANIELLE+DAHL&qid=1616692421&s=books&sr=1-1qid=1616692421&s=books&sr=1-1

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  3. Danielle's mastery of the English language is pure poetry, and her book is one that will make you laugh and cry. It is superb!

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    1. I agree, Linda. Wish I could speak French a fraction of her command of the English language.

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  4. Thanks for the introduction to this book, Polly. I agree that the writing is superb, and, yes, a memoir should be personal. I'm learning so much about writing a memoir from reading them, so I'm adding this one to the list of ones to read for research and for enjoyment.

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    1. I loved the memoir about your mother, Evelyn Evolving. I envy all who write about their lives. I can't do it.

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  5. I've also added Sirocco to my TBR list. It sounds like an excellent book.

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  6. Definitely going on my TBR list. Thank you for reviewing this.

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    1. You're welcome. Enjoy the writing. It's beautiful.

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