Aziz Chouaki, , trans. from the French by Ros Schwartz and Lulu Norman. . Graywolf, $16 (213pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-412-1

A young contemporary singer is caught in the political crossfire when a repressive Islamic regime seizes power in Algeria in Chouaki's first novel to be translated into English. Moussa Massy is the stage name of the talented first-person narrator, who dreams of stardom, his music a blend of Islamic melodies, African traditions and American pop influences. Moussa's dream comes true when his band begins climbing the local club ladder, and one of his songs hits the local charts and begins getting radio airplay. But darkly parallel to Moussa's rise is the ascent of the FIS, a Taliban-like Muslim party that uses brutality to enforce religious conformity. The effects are instantly deadly to Moussa's ambitions, as the thriving local club scene goes sour and the singer's creative friends scramble to get visas and leave the country. Chouaki's staccato, rapid-fire prose style works perfectly in the scenes designed to convey Moussa's frustration as his musical career stalls, his girlfriend leaves him for an arranged marriage and he struggles desperately to emigrate to France. But that same style seems too brisk in the final chapters as Chouaki sprints through Moussa's descent into drugs and alcohol and reveals his shocking final fate. Still, the novel's gripping narrative and political relevance make this a revelatory read. Agent, Cecile Dutheil de la Rochere at Editions Balland (France). (Jan.)