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by Malika Mokeddem
Translated from the French by Laura Rice and Karim Hamdy
Reviewed by Darryl Morris

Dr. Malika Mokeddem (1949-), an Algerian kidney specialist and award-winning novelist, has a fascinating and inspiring story to tell, and in My Men she does so obliquely but effectively. This memoir cum lover's chronicle consists of 16 entries about the men who have been most influential to her, starting with her illiterate and nomadic father. He is a product of a patriarchal Algerian culture, and treats the first born Malika as little more than a servant whose main role is to care for her younger brothers. Her unconditional love for her father is shattered after he gives her younger brother the bicycle that she had begged him for, and after he steals money from her piggy bank that was to be used to purchase a bicycle for herself. However, she is emboldened and empowered by these events: "As for me, I wanted love and happiness. By trying to win them, I won freedom instead."

She becomes the first person from her family to attend college, and ultimately graduates from medical school and completes additional specialty training in nephrology. Along the way, several men serve as mentors, including booksellers that nurture her love of reading and provide her with free books, and a local physician who recognizes that her anorexia is a protest against her family and a cry for help. He employs her as his assistant, and inspires her to become a physician. She moves to France after she completes her medical degree, to escape the personal and professional limitations that restrict her as an Algerian woman.

In subsequent chapters she describes her love affairs and her marriage to a French man, whose love and dedication to her allows her to overcome her anger and sorrow for her troubled country, family and friends, but whose betrayal of her leads to their eventual divorce. However, he does inspire her to pursue a writing career toward the end of their marriage, which provides an essential outlet and self-affirmation, as her novels and short stories are well received.

My Men is an honest look into the life and loves of a remarkable and passionate woman, and her ability to persevere despite obstacles and personal tragedy is inspiring and captivating.