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It is difficult for those outside of the two countries directly involved to plumb the depths of the French-Algerian relationship. It goes back only to 1830 but it feels like forever; that was the year when, as a result of the dey's fly-swatter hitting the French diplomat's face, Paris launched a devastating conquest of his country that lasted fifteen years. The colonial embrace was perhaps the tightest to be found anywhere on earth, made all the more remarkable by the fact that Algeria was not a simple place ready to be reshaped, but a mature Muslim society. Nonetheless, reshaped it was, although this was attempted to be undone by the Algerian revolution of 1954-62 and the abrupt departure of the French in 1962.

Naylor, a talented historian at Marquette University, notes that the literature on these two countries makes it seem like their relationship ended in 1962. But not for him: his account starts then and traverses the next near-four decades, surveying the still-suffocatingly close post-colonial era. It seems that no matter how hard the two peoples try to disengage or normalize their relations, they are fated to be in each other's hair. In part, their connection is practical: Algeria provides oil and gas on the one hand, workers on the other; in turn, France provides aid, a market, an employer, and other sources of support. But the more interesting connection, the deeper one, is that concerning identity: to an amazing extent, the French sense of self remains defined by Algeria, to the point that the "second Algerian revolution" of 1988 caused a profound crisis of self in France too.

Naylor capably navigates the story and presents it in basically two parts: how France under Charles de Gaulle very capably came to terms with the first Algerian revolution; and how François Mitterrand and his successors have tried, with only partial success, to achieve this same adjustment a second time.