Berrah’s debut memoir offers a history of the struggle for self-rule by North African nations and a vision of a peaceful world.
The author began life in Aïn Beïda, a small town in Algeria, at a time when France had annexed the country. Keenly aware of the second-class status accorded native Algerians, he resented the fact that his teachers taught French history but “nothing about our Algerian heritage.” As a medical student in France, he met other Muslim students dealing with discrimination. In the early 1950s, they formed the Association of North African Muslim Students, one of numerous anti-colonial associations with which he became involved. Berrah accepted a Ministry of Health assignment in the war-torn Moroccan town of Missour, earning him praise from peers and supervisors. Later, at the University of Indiana, he made a scientific breakthrough involving the inhibition of DNA synthesis; he accepted a professorship at the Yale School of Medicine in 1963 and was elected to the New York Academy of Sciences in 1966. Feeling the need to “work for a better world,” he accepted a post as an adviser to the Foreign Ministry of Côte d’Ivoire in 1965 and became President Félix Houphouët-Boigny’s closest counselor. In the course of his career, he met with world leaders, including several American presidents, Charles De Gaulle, Fidel Castro, and Golda Meir. The memoir’s detailed, relatively dispassionate prose reflects Berrah’s commitment to diplomacy. He tells one story that effectively illustrates his creativity in that arena; he was asked at a 1973 summit of Non-Aligned Countries how to handle an inflammatory speech by Castro, in progress, which was loaded with personal insults about President Houphouët-Boigny. Berrah simply had Castro’s microphone feed cut and “pretend[ed] there was a technical problem.” Although the multitude of association names and acronyms is overwhelming at times, readers will appreciate the author’s meticulous descriptions of the places he visited; for example, he tells of how the peacocks at President Houphouët-Boigny’s palace “showed off their vivid blue bodies, radiant with emerald iridescence.”
A detailed book about an extraordinary man and his belief that “only dialogue can save humanity from the perils of war.”