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. He more than fulfilled its motto “by the young, for the young,” discovering the twenty-four-year-old Albert Camus in 1937. His entire archive was twice destroyed by the French colonial forces, but despite financial difficulties (he was hopelessly generous) and the vicissitudes of wars and revolutions, Charlot (often compared to the legendary bookseller Sylvia Beach) carried forward Les Vraies Richesses as a cultural hub of Algiers.
- New Directions
- April 2020
- 160 Pages
“Our Riches reminds readers of the printed word’s ability to impart new ideas and shape public opinion.” —Christian Science Monitor
“This stirring novel, which was shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt, is based on the life of Edmond Charlot, the publisher best known for discovering Albert Camus and for opening the famed bookstore Les Vraies Richesses in Algiers, in 1936.” —The New Yorker
“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.” —Lily Meyer, NPR
“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.” —Elisabeth Zerofsky, The New York Times
“In this engaging and place-rich book, it is Adimi’s project to marry the sensuality and the intellect that young Camus fretted over, and to show that there are as many ways to be a bibliophile as to be a sensualist.” —Abby Walthausen, The Los Angeles Review of Books
“An understated, lyrical story of reading and resistance over the tumultuous generations.” —Kirkus Reviews (Starred)
“Adimi’s confident prose displays Ryad and Charlot’s emotional depth while nimbly shuttling the reader through nearly a century of history. This is a moving tribute to the enduring power of literature.” —Publishers Weekly
1. Why did Charlot’s attempt to conquer literary Paris fail?
2. What do the fortunes of secondary characters like Jean Amrouche and Mouloud Feraoun (see especially pages 109-110) tell us about the workings of power in a colonial literary space?
3. How does Adimi show the gap between Charlot’s ideal of unifying the literatures of the Mediterranean and the historical realities unfolding from the 1930s to the 1960s?
4. How do Charlot, Abdallah and Ryad differ in their ways of relating to books?
5. Whose riches does the book’s title refer to? And what are they?