11/19/2019 7:45 pm
In the Name of God
In the Name of God is a very action-oriented story set during the late eighties in a small village in Algeria. Religious revolutionaries are starting to rise up and wreak havoc in the country, and this village is no exception. One of the men from the village returns from service in Afghanistan to become a terrorist in his own hometown. This sets off a series of events from which the village likely will never recover.
The story opens with an introduction of a group of young men who grew up together in the village of Ghachimat: A police officer named Allal, a teacher named Kada, and an unemployed man named Jafer. Masculinity is tied to the job you hold in this era, and while Kada has a decent job, he wants something with more power. Allal encourages him to try for a job with him, but he refuses. The Front de Salvation Islamique (FIS) is trying to make the country more conservative, and Kada eventually joins them, but that is still in the future.
At the moment, love is in the air as Allal confesses he is engaged to someone who is not yet of the “requisite age”. Jafer gets him to admit it is the mayor’s daughter, Sarah, who is the romantic interest of many young men in town, including Kada. When Kada finds out, he is quiet, but internally he is furious. He tries to convince his mother to talk to Sarah’s mother about taking her hand in marriage, but his mother refuses initially. When she does break down and go, she learns Sarah is already betrothed. This is the final straw for Kada, who subsequently throws himself into his religion, joins the FIS, and leaves for Afghanistan. In the meantime, Ghachimat hears rumors of the struggle in Algers and worries for its own fate, until one night when the town’s leaders are arrested.
On Kada’s return, he is a changed man. No longer the angry young man bitter over losing who he felt was the love of his life, Kada is a respected soldier and a hero to the village, though perhaps a trifle self-important. In his absence, another old friend, Tej, has become radicalized and seeks Kada’s help in taking over the village and surrounding areas. They kidnap the imam to get him to declare war on the established government. When he is less than supportive, they decapitate him and leave his head in a bag on a bridge. This sets off Kada’s reign of terror in Ghachimat. Public places are bombed, men are murdered and mutilated, and through it all, Zane-the-dwarf watches, making himself a sympathetic character in the town’s eyes.
Tej and Kada conspire to kill Allal and take Sarah, and Zane acts as a lookout for them in their first attempt to do so. As the FIS enforces more and more restrictive laws, the killing continues. As the death toll rises, Zane is unusually flush with cash, and Tej takes over the house of Hadji Maurice after murdering him. He is gathering his own power, and Kada is becoming less and less important to his cause. He is able to carry out what he wants with the help of friends like Zane. He eventually takes his men and goes to Allal’s family home and the mayor’s house where they slaughter both families, taking Sarah hostage. Allal and the townspeople finally start to organize to fight back against the terrorists and save Sarah.
Twenty two men, including Allal and Jafer, set out to find and rescue Sarah. Along the way, they find more people murdered, more evidence of violence. They capture one of the terrorists, and he hints that Sarah has already been used by Kada, having been given to him by Tej. Allal and his compatriots go on, and that same day they discover Sarah, murdered and laid out on display as though she was expecting them. It is too much for Allal, who goes to pick her up, which sets off a bomb, tearing them both to shreds.
Tej is not quite finished with Ghachimat when he goes to the public letter-writer, Dactylo. Zane is also there, helping in burning down Dactylo’s home and finally cutting his throat. Soon after, Tej goes to Zane’s home after he is severely injured by shrapnel. Zane pretends he has called a doctor to come see him, when in fact he plans to allow Tej to die. In the final moments of the book, Zane reveals just how duplicitous he is lording over Tej’s dying body.
The book is written from multiple points of view, which allows the reader to experience more of what is happening in the village at the time of these events. Given the large number of characters, this moving point of view shows the reader from the young men’s standpoint to the elders. One point of view that is not taken is of a woman. The author used a feminine pseudonym, but from the tone of the story and the complete lack of a female perspective, it’s pretty clear it was written by a man.
A major theme here is class, with the upper classes holding important positions in the village. Class in this book is tricky, though, because those of the upper class at the beginning of the story end up being the main victims of the uprising as it progresses. Sarah, being the mayor’s daughter, cannot marry just anyone, which is why Allal was chosen for her, because he had a higher-status job, which put him ahead of other suitors. It leads one to wonder how different the story would be if Kada had been chosen instead, him being a rather lowly school teacher. One definitely gets the message that certain jobs are more respected than others, and women are of little to no consequence in the big picture.
I cannot say I agree with the messages sent by this book. While I understand it is in the context of the story, the misogyny and brutality of the main antagonists is hard to take. The ending felt too much like a victory for duplicity and underhandedness. Zane is not a very likable character, yet he prevails in the end. I do not know if many would relate with him readily.
This is a map of Algeria, located in North Africa.
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