Our Riches, by Kaouther Adimi (and elegantly translated by Chris Andrews), is the story of a dismantling. It literally follows the decommissioning of Les Vraies Richesses, an Algiers bookstore founded in the 1930s. Metaphorically, it traces the last decades of French control of Algeria. It’s melancholy, but resigned. After all, nothing lasts forever.
Ryad needs some kind of job before he can finish his degree as an engineer. It apparently doesn’t need to be an engineering or even a construction gig, so he takes a job getting rid of everything inside the shuttered Vraies Richesses. The property has been sold and will become a beignet shop. Ryad is not a reader. Thus, he’s not sentimentally attached to books or literary history. It’s no big deal to him to bin old books, photos, and papers. The neighbors are a little sad, but they’re not going to stop Ryad from tossing out the store’s history.
Meanwhile, we see Edmond Charlot found the store, become a publisher of some of the best French Algerian writers like Albert Camus and Emmanuel Roblès, among others. Charlot took a chance on Vraies Richesses because he loved literature so much. He borrowed and networked and hustled. During World War II, he begged for paper to keep printing. The store kept going right up until the Algerian Revolution sent the French—and Charlot—packing.
There’s no tragedy in Our Riches, just history. Charlot didn’t set himself up to fail; things just didn’t work out. But in spite of the feeling of sadness that pervaded the novel, I didn’t feel depressed by this book. Instead, I felt like I got to watch an episode of Algerian literary history that came to a natural conclusion.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.