CW – Death of a parent, war, violence, colonization
As a French woman whose late father was raised in a foster home because his Algerian – Kabyle – father wasn’t welcome in France after the Algerian war of Independence, I’ve always wished I knew more about my family roots. Along the years I’ve collected genealogical infos and a few contacts but they will never bridge the gulf created by France’s colonial history. My father’s relationship with his biological family was a complex beast, and since his death eight years ago learning more about his family’s history and traditions feels even more important to me but also, quite unattainable?
That’s why I’ve started compiling lists of books written by Algerian authors, and today I’ll share 5 books on my TBR that have been translated into English – from French or from Arabic.
1. The Seine Was Red: Paris, October 1961
Author : Leïla Sebbar | Publisher : Indiana University Press | Genre : Historical Fiction | Pages : 144
Leila Sebbar’s novel recounts an event in French history that has been hidden for many years. Toward the end of the Algerian war, the FLN, an Algerian nationalist party, organized a demonstration in Paris to oppose a curfew imposed upon Algerians in France. About 30,000 Algerians gathered peacefully, but the protest was brutally suppressed by the Paris police. Between 50 and 200 Algerians were killed and their bodies were thrown into the Seine. This incident provides the background for a more intimate look into the history of violence between France and Algeria. Following three young protagonists–one French, one Algerian, and one French national of Algerian descent–Sebbar takes readers on a journey of discovery and comprehension. Mildred Mortimer’s impressive translation conveys the power of Sebbar’s words in English and allows English-speaking readers an opportunity to understand the complex relationship between past and present, metropole and colony, immigrant and citizen, that lies at the heart of this acclaimed novel.
2. Land and Blood
Author : Mouloud Feraoun | Publisher : University of Virginia Press | Genre : Historical Fiction | Pages : 240
In Land and Blood, his second novel, the Algerian-Kabyle writer Mouloud Feraoun offers a detailed portrait of life for Algerian Kabyles in the 1920s and 1930s through the story of a Kabyle-Berber man, Amer. Like many Kabyle men of the 1930s, Amer leaves his village to work in the coal mines of France. While in France, he inadvertently kills his own uncle in an accident that sets in motion forces of betrayal and revenge once he returns home.
Unlike The Poor Man’s Son, his first fictional work, Land and Blood is not autobiographical but is rather the first in a series of novels Feraoun planned to write about immigrant ties between France and Algeria in the years leading up to World War II. Through Amer’s story, Feraoun unveils what daily life was like in a poor village of colonial-era Algeria. Published in 1953, a year before the outbreak of the Algerian War, Land and Blood provides a fascinating account of Muslim, Berber-Arab social, cultural, and religious practices of rural Algeria in the pre-independence era.
3. Do You Hear in the Mountains… and Other Stories
Author : Maïssa Bey | Publisher : University of Virginia Press | Genre : Adult Fiction | Pages : 196
This new translation brings together two of Algerian author Maïssa Bey’s important works for the first time in English. “Do You Hear in the Mountains…” is a compelling piece of autofiction in which three destinies meet dramatically on a train moving through France. We meet an Algerian refugee, whom we recognize as Bey herself. She has escaped the civil war and cannot forget her father’s commitment to independence nor his death under the torture of the French soldiers. Sitting near her is a retired doctor whose military service in Algeria coincidentally took him to the same area at the time of that tragedy. Their neighbor is a girl who would like to understand this past that is so painful to discuss.
The eleven diverse tales that follow, presented under the title “Under the Jasmin, at Night,” exemplify some of Bey’s recurring themes–the Franco-Algerian colonial legacy and the feminine condition. Together, these works provide an unforgettable picture of a turbulent history that reaches across generations and continents.
4. The Meursault Investigation
Author : Kamel Daoud | Publisher : Other Press | Genre : Adult Fiction | Pages : 143
He was the brother of “the Arab” killed by the infamous Meursault, the antihero of Camus’s classic novel. Seventy years after that event, Harun, who has lived since childhood in the shadow of his sibling’s memory, refuses to let him remain anonymous: he gives his brother a story and a name—Musa—and describes the events that led to Musa’s casual murder on a dazzlingly sunny beach.
In a bar in Oran, night after night, he ruminates on his solitude, on his broken heart, on his anger with men desperate for a god, and on his disarray when faced with a country that has so disappointed him. A stranger among his own people, he wants to be granted, finally, the right to die.
The Stranger is of course central to Daoud’s story, in which he both endorses and criticizes one of the most famous novels in the world. A worthy complement to its great predecessor, The Meursault Investigation is not only a profound meditation on Arab identity and the disastrous effects of colonialism in Algeria, but also a stunning work of literature in its own right, told in a unique and affecting voice.
5. The Star of Algiers
Author : Aziz Chouaki | Publisher : Graywolf Press | Genre : Adult Fiction | Pages : 304
Moussa Massy’s ambitions extend far beyond the three-room apartment he shares with the other thirteen members of his family in Algiers. A gifted performer of modern Kabyle song, he is as inspired by Prince and Michael Jackson as he is by Arab and Algerian traditional music. His first taste of fame, however, is brief, as the conflict between the fundamental Islamic group FIS and the more progressive FLN grows more violent and the city comes to a standstill amid corruption and scandal. As his music career begins to disintegrate, like the city itself, Massy’s driving passion for music turns to unforgiving rage.
In energetic, urgent prose, Aziz Chouaki vividly portrays the harsh realities of a country in constant turmoil and brilliantly shows the capacity for despair and hatred of those who have nothing left to lose. Available for the first time in English, The Star of Algiers, a novel of great passion and originality, touches on the most contentious issues of our time.