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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Cousin K

Yasmina Khadra

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To purchase Cousin K

Title: Cousin K
Author: Yasmina Khadra
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 85 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Cousin K - US
Cousin K - UK
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Cousine K - Canada
Cousin K - India
Cousine K - France
Cugina K - Italia
  • French title:
  • Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith and Alyson Waters
  • With an Afterword by Robert Polito

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Our Assessment:

B : tight, lyrical, dark

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 18/2/2013 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "While the novella feels fractional, offering only piecemeal glimpses of the protagonists, it is atmospheric and the writing is tense and lyrical." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Cousin K is a tight little novel -- even the short Afterword only fattens the entire volume up to 85 pages -- with Khadra plunging readers into some very dark territory.
       A preface of sorts foreshadows what is to come, the bitter (if now resigned), reflective narrator admitting:

     Such was the battle that raged between Cousin K and me: good done badly; evil done well.
       The story proper -- after two brief prefatory sections -- begins with the narrator describing finding his brutally lynched father's body ("his eyes gouged out, his sex in his mouth") when he was only five years old. As it turns out: "Later, the villagers realized they had been wrong about my father", but of course nothing can make right a mistake of this order; they can't atone for their crime. This is the kind of world, and deadly atmosphere -- of brutality, life-altering mistakes, and numbing fatalism -- that the narrator grows up in.
       The narrator's mother is distant, devoted only to his brother whom the narrator can't help but be jealous of ("All the good luck went his way. Including mine"). The narrator has no really close ties ("I have a married sister whose first name I sometimes forget"), but the one person that arouses intense feeling in him is his Cousin K. He is terribly torn by her -- devoted and passionate, on the one hand, but also seeing that she is: "mean and self-centered, rancorous, spiteful".
       Eventually the narrator tries, in his small way, to take some sort control: of his life, of his Cousin K. He snaps, in a way -- though, of course, he's been long broken ..... It does not end well.
       Cousin K is an impressionistic novel, short chapters of a life in extremis. The scenes are often well-composed, the writing powerfully lyrical. But this is dark stuff, from within, of a boy and youth for whom there seems no possible salvation.
       Despite -- and in part perhaps even because of (as Khadra relies on it too easily) -- the fine writing, Cousin K feels incomplete as a character-study, wallowing almost entirely in injustice and isolation. The narrator's voice (and tale) is certainly striking, but it is only his side and view we get, and, angry, hateful, unforgiving as it is, that ultimately seems too limited.
       Cousin K is a brittle work -- finely wrought but all sharp, cutting edges. Impressive, in a way, but not entirely successful.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 April 2013

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Cousin K: Reviews: Other books by Yasmina Khadra under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       'Yasmina Khadra' is the pseudonym of Mohammed Moulessehoul. He was born in 1956, and fled his native Algeria in 2000.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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