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Mektoub: A Young Woman's War Journal

ISBN: 0972551816

By Nicole Solignac O'Connor

Review by: Tatum Petrich


Nicole Solignac O'Connor's Mektoub: A Young Woman's War Journal recounts her experiences during the last three years of World War II. As the title suggests, the Arab expression Mektoub, which means It is written it is Gods will! serves as a form of support for Nicole as she struggles through frustration, anxiety, fear, helplessness, love, loss, hope, and relief. The memoir is an insightful recollection of O'Connor's formative years as she is forced to find her way through new and dangerous places in order to survive the war.

Upon O'Connor's arrival in Algiers to attend the university, her life is turned upside down as she witnesses what is the first of many bombings. As is consistent with O'Connor's experiences throughout the war, during this bombing on her first night away from her family and home, Nicole is not afraid, but instead is curious and strong a curiosity and strength that eventually lead to her joining the war effort. The memoir moves through O'Connor's many travels as a translator and interpreter from Algiers to Tunis, Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. The narrative recalls O'Connor's experiences with various men and women who were living similarly uncertain lives and includes several significant relationships including those with men who acted as father figures for Nicole as she was unable to be with her parents during this difficult time, as well as one love who is killed in the war and another whom she eventually marries.

These years of experiencing the war bring tremendous hardship on the young woman as she witnesses not only the death of her lover, but also of a female co-worker whose suicide shocks Nicole and fellow officers. In conjunction with such hardships, however, Nicole adapts to life in the war as the loss of electricity and the sounding of sirens become commonplace for her. Consistently living in danger, Nicole experiences both literal and figurative blackouts throughout the years, and all the while she maintains her desire to pursue academia. She is at times comforted by Bible passages and ultimately gains a new perspective of her place as an individual in a vast world. She learns to eschew the want or value of material possessions and instead embraces the uncertainty of life and basic values by which she chooses to live.

O'Connor's memoir is a well-told and accessible story, one that will appeal to all readers. Its use of first person narration is effective in drawing readers into O'Connor's tumultuous experiences. At times, her writing is a bit awkward, and while her occasional use of historical references to perhaps more effectively describe particular details of the war may be useful in achieving accuracy, this reliance on other texts to help tell her story may be read as a weakness in O'Connor's storytelling. The memoir is written years after its events, however, so its important to recognize that O'Connor's acknowledgement of an occasional want for efficiency and accuracy reveals her modesty as a writer-- a writer aiming to share her courageous experiences with others.

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