Savages: The Wedding by Sabri Louatah – book review
It’s a brave novelist who embarks on a 24-hour timescale for their story and keeps it interesting for nearly 250 pages.
‘Savages’ is a powerful blend of thriller and family saga. It speaks of contemporary French society with all its post-colonial challenges.
Issues of citizenship, racism, anti-Semitism, religion and sexuality all loom large. This is deft storytelling of modern-day France, with the slow burn of a political thriller.
Savages: the French saga unfolds
A novel set in former coal-mining town Saint-Étienne and it is sometimes quite poetically and lovingly portrayed.
This is the first of a quartet dealing with:-
- the election of France’s first Arab Presidential candidate and
- the optimism for a future of liberté, égalité and multi-ethnic fraternité.
Chaouch is seen as a ‘French Obama’. He’s a former Harvard professor whose wife is Jewish and whose daughter is dating TV actor Faroud of the local Nerrouche family, who are preparing to celebrate a big family wedding.
We are on the election trail with a popular, song-loving everyman candidate, who does not want protection, but receives death threats and racist hate speech on a daily basis.
What are we to make of his potential success? Can he really win the election? Is he really safe?
Any presidential campaign and election could bring about the expression of extremes – political, religious and so on.
Looking back to the European elections of 2014, it is possible to consider what has changed since the riots in France of 2005, which inspired Louatah to write his trilogy.
That he was reading Dostoyevsky at the time is perhaps an angle you can consider when you sit down to read this brilliant start to the Saint-Étienne quartet.
Part One does not disappoint.
It leaves us with a dramatic cliff-hanger, like an episode of ‘Riviera’ or ‘The Wire’.
Savages: outsiders in France
I found the Nerrouche family to have all of the quirks, love-hate dynamics and frustrations of many families. This, of course is precisely what you need for a family saga.
I couldn’t say I loved them, but I ended up caring what happens to everyone.
There is family tension, hidden history, pride and frustration at being the outsiders in French society.
The anti-hero protagonist of Saint-Étienne
At the heart of the story is Krim, whose myriad tensions and conflicts catalyse the wider narrative.
Krim is a musical prodigy who lost his passion when channelled into a vocational school, just like the generation before him.
Now bored and directionless, Krim’s mother worries he will become radicalised, while his criminal underworld connections would prefer him gone.
It can be a somewhat confusing journey to remember the names of the family members and how they are related. The family tree in the front of the book definitely assists the reader.
In the compelling, highly televisual thriller of a novel, Louatah conjures characters who are often lost, proud of their heritage, but not quite at home where they are in contemporary France.
A portrait of contemporary France
Literature fans and Francophiles will note that the novel has none of the dystopian cynicism of Houellebecq. Instead, it seeks an optimistic way to find some resolution to the social problems facing ‘integration’ and life for immigrants in France.
In these turbulent political times, I relished Louatah’s ability to weave the complex tapestry of family life in modern France.
It was no surprise to find that Louatah has been named as one of “the most exciting voices in fiction” in The Guardian’s Top 50 writers to read now.
‘Savages’ is a novel that intrigues and challenges.
- It is a tense narrative, set within a thrilling 24 hours and it left me wanting to find out what happens next.
- In fact, as Chaouch’s presidential campaign says “the future is now”, but do any of us know how this will end?
- Ending on a question as it does, it is worth noting that volume 2 is already available in English. So, you won’t have to wait to discover more of this French family saga with its socio-political commentary deftly woven into every page!
To be continued…
Have you read Sabri Louatah’s novel yet? We’d love to know what you think of volume 1. Do you think the author’s place in the ‘50 writers you should read now’ list is justified? Let us know in the comments below!
Buy and read now – Savages: The Wedding Reference
1. Houellebecq’s 2015 novel with a Muslim Presidential candidate premise, ‘Soumission’ goes in a very different direction to this quartet, as it explores how that President imposes Sharia law in France. Image credits
1. Savages: The Wedding via Amazon
2. Lyon by Poh Wei Chuen via Unsplash
3. Paris by Nil Castellví via Unsplash