THE SEVEN-HEADED SERPENT by Ali Ghanem

THE SEVEN-HEADED SERPENT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An affecting memoir thinly disguised as a novel from Algerian-born film maker Ghanem. The hero of the story, Allawa, was born in a village in an obscure part of Algeria during WW II; his mother died giving birth to him, and he was raised by his stern farmer father and a series of aunts and uncles--he grew up steeped in peasant mysticism and tales of witches and evil spells. The Algerian revolution broke out when he was 11 (his favorite uncle died fighting for the National Liberation Army), and to escape the violence the family moved to the large city of Constantine, where Allawa--a rambunctious, inquisitive boy--worked as a butcher's apprentice and roamed the streets. One day he wanders into a cinema and becomes infatuated--almost transformed--by the play of sound and light across the screen. As he grows up, he's trained to be an electrical engineer, but in 1965 he emigrates to France, begins hanging around the University in Besancon, and eventually gets bit parts in movies. His next stop is Paris, during the heady days of the mid-60's; Allawa lives in the Latin Quarter, dabbles with Communism, but still dreams of working in films, and eventually becomes assistant to a Peruvian director. Seeing the squalor in the lives of the Algerian workers and their families, he decides to make a film about them--quite an ambitious undertaking for a young, unschooled, extremely unsophisticated Algerian, but Allawa is nothing if not charming and persistent, and the film (Mektoub) succeeds. In sum: the book would've worked better as a straightforward memoir--it's neither fish nor fowl here, lacking strong characters and any real narrative force. Still, it's a moving story of a young man desperately needing to succeed, and to belong.

Pub Date: May 28th, 1986
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich