In a crumbling colonial mansion besieged by slums in the old quarter of Algiers, Lamia lives a life of self-imposed isolation, communing only with her ghosts by night, working as a paediatrician by day. Her family are dead but for her beloved brother Sofiane, who has become a harraga – one of those who risk their lives attempting to flee the country for a better life elsewhere.
Lamia’s tranquil, ordered existence is turned upside-down when a sixteen-year-old stranger knocks on her door in the middle of the night. Pregnant, unmarried and dressed like an X-Factor contestant, Chérifa is talkative, innocent, and utterly unafraid. Lamia takes her in only because she has been sent by Sofiane. Chérifa enters the house like a whirlwind, and leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. Lamia must try to teach her, to protect her against a world where a woman who is not meek, subservient and married is an affront, where a girl who is pregnant can be killed to spare her family’s honour.
By turns funny and lyrical, luminous and sardonic, Harraga, by the controversial author of An Unfinished Business, is the devastating story of two very different women who become friends and allies in a patriarchal world.