The English debut of a rising young French star, Our Riches celebrates quixotic devotion and the love of books in the person of Edmond Charlot, who at the age of twenty founded Les Vraies Richesses (Our True Wealth), the famous Algerian bookstore/publishing house/lending library.
Thanks to France's 132-year colonization of Algeria, the two countries are thoroughly intertwined — a relationship Adimi explores with nuance and determination in her third novel, Our Riches, newly translated by the excellent Chris Andrews. Moving adeptly from colonized Algiers to the present day, and from a beloved bookstore's birth to its near-death, Adimi at once offers a love letter to literary culture, Algerian independence and the city of Algiers ... Adimi braids her plotlines together deftly, never lingering long before moving on. This approach could seem hurried or superficial, but here, it works beautifully ... In her collective sections, Adimi writes capital-H History with real force. Her description of French police brutally repressing a pro-independence protest in 1961 is gut-wrenching ... This is rightfully harsh writing, but Our Riches is not always a harsh book. Often it's sunny, sometimes downright seductive ... quick, masterful tonal switches ... Even when writing in her most historical mode, she slides easily between emotions and perspectives ... Always, Adimi prioritizes the emotional account over the factual, devoting more time and writerly care to small-h history than to the capital-H kind ... is, above all, a loving book ... This kind of thorough, patient description always expresses commitment. In Our Riches, it feels like devotion — to Algeria, and to the world of literature.
Our Riches consists of two vibrant and closely knit stories across tempestuous generations, and Adimi’s writing creates an agile prose which, in translation, provides a faithful voice to characters who are losing their bearings in uncertain times ... The story is captivating, and if you take a look at the decades in which the story is set, you might notice that the geopolitical turmoil is cleverly portrayed in the different uses of the first-person plural pronoun, we. In the exposition, the reader is gradually welcomed into everything Algiers has to offer, including its most tragic history ... Adimi’s tribute to Charlot’s work is truly poignant, and it shows the power of books in people’s lifelong journey. And, such as Ryad who keeps encountering Charlot’s portrait while he empties the shelves, the reader might also end up feeling closely observed.
The writing loses direction at times; characters appear who were never introduced, along with details that are unnecessary and uninteresting. Yet the truly potent effect of the book is that by taking on literary history from the underbelly of the French nation — from the colony just across the sea — Adimi confronts us with episodes that are simply never spoken of in France: the grand celebration of the end of World War II, in May 1945, which, in Algeria, turned into a massacre by the colonial administration; another massacre, this time in Paris, in 1961, of Algerian protesters, who were thrown into the Seine by French police officers ... It is in unhappy nations, we are meant to understand, that history is a relentless companion.