Silence of the sands: a beguiling novel set on the edge of desert in a remote part of Algeria

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In her first novel 'Nos silences sont immenses' ('Our silences are immense') former French teacher Sarah Ghoula delves back into a time when Algeria was still a French colony. Set on the edge of the desert, it tells the story of a gifted young healer. One of the themes of the book is the handing down of knowledge and stories, and the author – who was educated in and taught in France but whose family comes from rural Algeria - uses myths and legends from oral storytelling as she describes the struggle to preserve those traditions. Faïza Zerouala reviews this poetic debut novel and speaks to the author.

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Life got off to a bad start for Zohra. She did not cry when she was born and had the misfortune to be the tenth daughter of her just-widowed mother Salma. The little girl was unattractive, too, with a pallid complexion and a terrifying “devilish” gaze thanks to having different coloured eyes. Her mother was convinced she was cursed and simply a worthless mouth to feed.