People Like Them by Samira Sedira’s review – strangers among them | fiction

The Franco-Algerian author (and actress) Samira Sedira believes that the role of a writer is not to judge or to take sides, but to “try to get closer to the shadows”. Inspired by a murder case in 2003 in a small French village, his tense novel, skillfully translated by Lara Vergnaud, does just that.

Anna and Constant Guillot’s world is turned upside down when Bakary and Sylvia Langlois and their three children become the first black family to live in Carmac. We have known from the start that Constant was guilty of their murder. It is the intersection of class and race that interests Sedira; what prompted his savage crime?

Everyone knows each other in the village, from the “old” Abbott and Costello to François the owner of the bar. Sedira carefully describes everything that is familiar to her: the abandoned chapel and sawmill ‘; the smell of pinewood merging with “the smells of fried peppers, dry hay, sizzling onions and pizza dough” filling the street; the torpor of noon and the silence of winter.

The otherness of the Langloise upsets this order. They build an impressive chalet, and their expensive cars and generous hospitality stand in stark contrast to the modest lives of their neighbors. Anna describes Bakary and Sylvia as “two figures stuck together and coming towards us like a supernatural entity”. Abbott and Costello cannot understand “why people like them would deliberately choose to live in a village like ours”. They are surprised that Bakary runs a travel agency: “A black man could not be at the head of a company. The black man worked for the white man, not the other way around.

Although the Guillots quickly befriended the Langlois family, it was a troubled relationship from the start. When Anna agrees to work as a housekeeper, Sedira brilliantly expresses the damage inflicted by her role as a servile. Constant’s resentment finally explodes after Bakary defrauded him of his parents’ € 8,000 in savings.

Sedira lays bare the dangers of a callous society dominated by money and status, and the insidious racism that drives an ordinary man to murder. There are no monsters, she says, “only humans”.

People love them by Samira Sedira, translated by Lara Vergnaud, is published by Raven Books (£ 12.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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