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On Leave

By Daniel Anselme

Translated by David Bellos

Penguin Classics, 2014

ISBN: 9780141393872

On Leave

The novel takes an oblique look at the Algerian War, a conflict that raged from 1954 until 1962, ending only when De Gaulle finally granted the troubled colony its independence.

Anselme’s approach is to dig deep into the attitudes and motivations of three soldiers who are home on leave, let loose in Paris for a week or two.  He shows us the distance between civilians safely ensconced at home and combatants who are fighting an unpopular war – a situation we have since come to know only too well.  For sure, there is no sanctuary: these three guys may as well be ghosts, they’re on their own.  Adrift from lovers, friends and family.

To my mind, the best thing in the novel is the description of a long, chaotic night on the town, with Paris – a city which Anselme knew and loved well – acting as a salve on the soldiers’ despondency and displacement.

Sad to say, the novel – originally published in 1957, the same year that Algeria’s son Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature – was one of the few works of fiction that Daniel Anselme (1927-1984) wrote.  His efforts were mostly devoted to journalism.

The translation reads smoothly and beautifully, which is hardly a surprise; it’s by David Bellos.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.

 

 

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