Category: Algeria

Kamel Daoud: Zabor ou Les psaumes [Zabor or The Psalms]

The latest addition to my website is Kamel Daoud‘s Zabor ou Les psaumes [Zabor or The Psalms]. This novel, by the author of Meursault, contre-enquête (Meursault, Counter Investigation), is a superb novel, better, in my view, than Meursault, about an Algerian man who lives alone with his aunt, only comes out at night and writes the stories of the dying, so that they will be remembered in a remote Algerian town, where illiteracy is high. He has had a troubled relationship with his father who abandoned his mother early on (she died not long afterwards) and now has a large family with Zabor’s step-mother. He does not get on with his step-mother or step-brothers. However, his father is now dying and he is summoned to write his story. Nothing good can come out of this. Zabor is a contrarian, a lover of reading and writing and, apart from sex (he is a virgin), not much else but he is a wonderful, colourful creation. Other Press plan to publish it in English in 2019.

Boualem Sansal: 2084 la fin du monde (2084: The End Of The World)

The latest addition to my website is Boualem Sansal‘s 2084 la fin du monde (2084: The End Of The World). This is Sansal’s updated, Algerianised 1984. Though he refers to 1984, it is a very different book. It is essentially a satire on religious control and orthodoxy in Algeria and Saudi Arabia and similar states. The book is set at some future time (not necessarily 2084) in Abistan which, as far as most of the inhabitants know, covers the entire world. Our hero is Ati and he is trying to discover whether if what the religious authorities have led the people to believe is true. He has to undertake two long and difficult journeys to do so and we follow his adventures. Sansal is very damning of Islamic fundamentalism as found in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, etc. and tells a very good story of how Ati learns what he is not meant to learn.

Boualem Sansal: Rue Darwin

The latest addition to my website is Boualem Sansal‘s Rue Darwin. This is a superb work by Sansal which tells the story of Yazid, an Algerian, the same age as Sansal, who takes his mother to Paris to die (of cancer) and where she can see her other children, Yazid being the only one still living in Algeria. Sadly, she falls into a coma on the plane and does not see her children but she tells Yazid (possibly telepathically) that he should return to Rue Darwin, the street where they grew up. In doing so, he finds that his antecedents are more complicated than he thought, involving the (female) head of a powerful clan, prostitution and abduction, while, at the same time, telling us about and vociferously condemning all the wars Algeria has been involved in. The novel gives us an albeit partial view of Algeria while telling an excellent and complex story.

Boualem Sansal: Harraga (Harraga)

The latest addition to my website is Boualem Sansal‘s Harraga (Harraga). Surprisingly enough for an Algerian novel novel this has been published in English and by a fairly mainstream publisher at that. It tells the story of Lamia, an unmarried thirty-five year old Algerian doctor, who lives on her own in the family house. One day there is a knock at the door and she is greeted by Chérifa, a very much pregnant sixteen-year old, who has been sent by Sofiane, Lamia’s younger brother, who disappeared a year ago, presumably to become a harraga, i.e. a migrant to Europe. Lamia soon takes on the role of surrogate mother but finds Chérifa’s ways difficult, not least because she is very untidy and also keeps disappearing for days at a time. Lamia manages to track her down, with some assistance, but they get on and then they quarrel and then she disappears again. Sansal tells an excellent story through the thoughts and views of Lamia, who is free and independent, but also cynical about her life and her country but eager to be a mother of a lost child.

Mouloud Mammeri: L’Opium et le Bâton [Opium and the Stick]

opium

The latest addition to my website is Mouloud Mammeri‘s L’Opium et le Bâton [Opium and the Stick]. This novel reflects Mammeri’s own experiences in the FLN. It is an exciting story of a remote village, Tala, and four siblings from that village and how they react to the French occupation. The youngest, Ali, has joined the FLN and we follow his exploits in the FLN throughout the book. His oldest brother, Belaid, now collaborates with the French and does well out of it. The second brother, Bachir, is, initially, a doctor in Algiers, wondering how he can break off his relationship with a French woman, Claude, who is pregnant. However, he gets caught up in the conflict and becomes the doctor for the FLN in the Tala region. Their sister, Farroudja, a widow, though being criticised for only being a girl, by her mother, does her bit and assists the FLN. The French come out as cruel, vicious, ruthless and murderous, while the Algerians, except for a few collaborators, come out as generally heroic and brave, standing up to the French, at least in this book, in what seems to be a losing cause. Mammeri keeps up the excitement level and makes no pretence at objectivity. Sadly, the book has not been translated into English.

Mouloud Mammeri: La Colline Oubliée [The Forgotten Hill]

colline

The latest addition to my website is Mouloud Mammeri‘s La Colline Oubliée [The Forgotten Hill], one of the many Algerian novels sadly not translated into English. This one is about an Algerian village in the period leading up to World War II and during that war. Mokrane is the main character and we follow his life. He gets engaged and then married. He is called up to fight and undergoes training but is sent back home, once the Germans occupy France. As his wife does not get pregnant, his mother is determined that she is sinful and that Mokrane should leave her and marry someone else. By the time he is called up again, as the Allies fight Rommel, he has to all intents abandoned her but when he gets a sad letter from her, during his service, telling him she has moved back to her parents but is now pregnant, he is devastated and the effect on him is catastrophic. Mammeri also gives us an excellent portrait of the village during this period, with changing customs but also, during wartime, many problems, including disease, hunger and social disruption.

Rabah Belamri: Le Soleil sous le tamis [The Sun Under the Screen]

soleil

The latest addition to my website is Rabah Belamri‘s Le Soleil sous le tamis [The Sun Under the Screen]. This is an autobiographical novel of the author’s childhood in an Algerian village during the 1950s. Belamri is such an accomplished writer that what could have been a pedestrian account works very well. He divides his novel into the various aspects of his life and the life of the village, such as what happens during Ramadan and what happens during Eid, the Thursday market day (his father is a not very successful market trader), children’s games, the life and activities of his two parents and, of course, sex. However this is the period of the Algerian War. While the war does not dominate the book, it certainly is a key feature. Before the war, we meet the dominant French landowner, who treats the Algerians brutally. We see his ferocious and cruel reaction when there is an attack on his life and we finally see his death, which the author witnesses. We also see the cruelty of the French soldiers – Belamri is certainly not impartial in his descriptions. We also see how the games of the children change to being more war-like after 1954, when the war started. Much of the book, however, is a joyous, almost lyrical description of life in a small Algerian village, which Belamri describes superbly. This book is not available in English, nor in any other language except for Arabic, and nor is it likely to be, though his later autobiographical novel Regard blessé has been published in English as Shattered Vision.

André Brink and Assia Djebar died yesterday

Assia Djebar

Assia Djebar

Sadly, two writers whom I have not read but should have done, died yesterday. Assia Djebar was an Algerian writer and wrote novels with a feminist viewpoint. She was also a member of the Académie française. Several of her works have been translated into English. André Brink was a noted South African novelist, best known for A Dry White Season.

Kamel Daoud: Meursault, contre-enquête [Meursault, Counter Investigation]

meursault

The latest addition to my website is Kamel Daoud‘s Meursault, contre-enquête [Meursault, Counter Investigation], part of my effort at reading literary prize winners/shortlisted writers other than the Man Booker. This book has already won the prix François Mauriac, not to be confused with the prix François Mauriac and the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie but is also on the shortlist for the Goncourt and the Prix Renaudot, the winners of which will be announced 5 November. Please note all links to prize sites are in French.

This is a superb novel and is an Algerian response to Albert CamusL’Etranger (UK: The Outsider; US: The Stranger). The story is narrated by an Algerian, called Haroun, talking nominally to a French academic (who turns out not to be an academic) in a bar in Oran. Haroun is the brother of the Arab murdered in the Camus novel and this murder has affected his entire life. He is bitter not only at the murder but by the fact that the book does not mention the victim by his name or any other details, except that he is An Arab. The murdered man is called Moussa and was murdered when Haroun was only seven. He is bitter also by the neglect of Moussa’s suffering and the focus on the problems of Meursault, the murderer, that his mother was never given Moussa’s body to bury (an empty coffin was buried, forty days after his death) and that his mother has spent the rest of her life trying to find out more about the murder, neglecting her younger son. We also follow his life, which has not been a great one. Daoud does throw in one interesting twist, which livens things up. It really is an excellent book, showing both French racism towards the Algerians, damning Camus and Meursault, yet, at the same time, being somewhat critical of Algeria and Algerians (Daoud has made his living by being an outspoken journalist, often critical of his own country). As it has only recently come out in French, it has not been translated as yet but I would be disappointed if this book did not make it into English. Update: the English-language rights have apparently been bought by OneWorld.

Mourad Bourboune: Le Muezzin [The Muezzin] (later: Le Muezzin bègue)

muezzin

The latest addition to my website is Mourad Bourboune‘s Le Muezzin [The Muezzin] (later: Le Muezzin bègue). Mourad Bourboune was one of the generation who had participated in the Algerian Revolution and who wrote about it but yet, for some reason, his reputation has not been as high as some of his contemporaries. Indeed, this book has only been translated into Danish and is long since out of print in French. It tells the story of Saïd Ramiz, a man who had descended from a line of muezzins but had never been one, except on one occasion in an emergency. He had been part of a revolutionary cell and had committed several violent acts. He had been betrayed and arrested and tortured by the French shortly before the end of the war. After a long absence he is now returning to Algeria where he is feared by various groups – those who betrayed him or might be suspected of having done so, the religious authorities, who fear he might bomb a mosque and the police, who fear he will try to restart the revolution. However, we seen him as an unbalanced man, who has recently released himself from an asylum, against the advice of his doctor. It is a fine book about the Algerian Revolution and how, in the eyes of some, it failed but sadly it is not available in English or, indeed, readily available in French.

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