A riveting first novel with currently topical settings and themes—Algeria, the Congo, ultraright terrorism—impressively evokes the closed and obsessive lives of men who operate beyond the law. The author's origins and experiences as an Algerian Jew give his story—about the protagonist Robert Aron—an authority that makes it as edgy as a conventional thriller and as precisely reported as a news story. But Robert's tale, told by three main characters, is essentially an ambitious study of men who become obsessed to the point of madness with causes and killing. Two of them, Robert and Jojo, both born in Algeria, join the Foreign Legion straight out of school and begin fighting France's colonial wars—first in Indochina, then in Algeria itself. As the story opens in 1962, Marie, Robert's girlfriend, relates how Robert and Jojo resigned from the Foreign Legion when France gave Algeria its independence and joined the OAS, an underground, right-wing organization that wanted to keep Algeria French. An attack organized by Jojo on a hospital so sickens Robert that he decides to leave the OAS and be repatriated, like so many other French Algerians, to France, where Marie will join him. But Jojo, the second narrator, has other plans. Once in France, Robert is tailed, his letters to Marie are intercepted, and, though Jojo brings her to him, the two are soon separated. Jojo forces Robert at gunpoint to go and fight with him in the Belgian Congo, in the midst of a war for independence. A despairing Robert relates the third section: a haunting record of cruelty and mindless violence as the now deranged Jojo keeps killing and killing. A brief epilogue from Marie offers closure, if not comfort. Robert's relationship with Jojo is not always persuasive, but Givon's debut is nonetheless a stunning portrait of men of action who can't, or won't, stop their murderous behavior.
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