A man and a woman, each ruined in their own ways by a brutal North African prison camp, find solace in each other and embark on a difficult emotional journey.
Deep in an unnamed North African desert, 40 men suffer a fate arguably worse than death—left to languish indefinitely at the bottom of wells, they have contact with the world only once a day, when a guard changes the buckets they use for tepid water, rancid food and waste. A prisoner, Andrès, discovers one night that the guard has accidentally left a rope dangling in the well. Miraculously, he escapes and is discovered, half-dead, on the outskirts of the camp by Tamia, a beautiful woman who just found out (after seducing a guard) that her lover, Elijah, another prisoner, is dead. Tamia helps Andrès escape and nurses him back to health in the home of a nearby villager, a kind and lonely old woman who sees in the couple her estranged son and daughter. Andrès and Tamia fall tentatively in love, but each is still haunted by memories of those that they left behind—Elijah, for whom Tamia risked everything, and Andrès’ wife, Léa. When Andrès is well, they travel back to the capital to stay with Tamia’s sister and her husband, a cousin of Elijah. There, they must face several truths—Léa, believing that Andrès was dead, has remarried. And Andrès, once a member of a terrorist resistance movement, discovers that he had known Elijah, and that he had been hiding many secrets from Tamia. Not only was Elijah a leader of the resistance movement, which surprised Tamia, but he was also known to be a traitor working as a double agent for the police. This betrayal, as well as the knowledge that he might actually be alive somewhere in Syria, leaves her with many decisions, particularly now that much of her loyalty lies with Andrès.
Pleasantly simple language, stark imagery and a surprisingly hopeful tone play nicely off each other in this promising, though quiet, debut novel.