Jérôme Ferrari’s novel has already won four major French literary awards and now has become his first book to be translated into English: a tense colonial thriller set in Algeria in 1957, entitled Where I Left My Soul.
The protagonist of the book is Capitaine Degorce, a soldier in the French army during the Algerian War of Independence. Degorce has been a prisoner of war himself in the past, captured and held by both the Germans and the Vietnamese in two separate conflicts, and now he finds himself in charge of Tahar, an enemy commander responsible for the death of many, but with whom he starts to feel kinship.
There is an interesting conversation about the use of torture, detention and advanced interrogation at the centre of the novel: whether it is justified if the information gleaned from it can save more lives than it ruins, or whether the use of torture, even in a war-zone, reduces the torturer to something less than human, rendering any gains worthless in the face of a loss of something greater. The characters continually make compromises between getting results and resorting to cruelty as they move forward in the story, and, particularly for Degorce, being the victim of torture himself, every concession he makes to the crueller side of his nature makes him question more and more whether he will ever be able to consign his actions to the past when the war ends.
This is the work of an accomplished writer at the peak of his powers, rendered in a clear and evocative translation by Geoffrey Strachan.