Leïla Slimani’s latest novel, In the Country of Others: War, War, War, is the first volume of a multigenerational trilogy recounting—in the truthful way that only fiction can—the history of the author’s grandmother, who emigrated from France to Morocco in the wake of World War II.
It was supposed to be a big adventure. Mathilde, in the company of Amine, a man “so handsome that she was afraid someone would steal him away,” escapes the confines of her Alsatian village into what she imagines will be a life ripped from the pages of a Karen Blixen novel. Alas, Morocco in 1947 is far from this romantic fantasy, so Mathilde does what millions of expats have done before and since: She makes up her new life as she goes along, and she curates (read, “lies about”) her experiences for her family back home.
The novel’s subtitle, “War, War, War,” telegraphs the backdrop against which this drama plays out. Amine fights against the arid land he tries to farm, against the elements, against poverty. Mathilde fights against society’s expectations of her, both as a woman and as an immigrant. Morocco fights against its colonial history and uncertain future. Both Morocco and Mathilde struggle to gain some degree of autonomy over the course of the novel. Parallels with Paul Scott’s famed Raj Quartet are evident, as the personal and political journeys are inextricably intertwined.
In the Country of Others is an unabashedly feminist novel of outsiders. In an interview, Slimani asserted that “women all live in the land of others, for they live in the land of men,” and that her dual Franco-Moroccan heritage leaves her partially estranged from both cultures. But she has been warmly embraced by the French literati, having won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2016 for The Perfect Nanny, as well as the Grand Prix de l'Héroïne Madame Figaro, awarded by Le Figaro for the best novel featuring a female protagonist, for In the Country of Others.
The first in a planned trilogy, In the Country of Others doesn’t wrap up its myriad messy conflicts, but it does conclude in an emotionally satisfying way while leaving the door open for its next two chapters.