Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Mischief - Assia Djebar's first novel

'La Soif' (The thirst) is Assia Djebar's first novel. It was published in 1957 by Julliard editions in Paris, France. By all accounts, it was a difficult novel to own up to for Djebar immediately after its publication. 'La Soif' not only appeared during Algeria's war of independence, while the fighting against France was raging in Algeria, but it was set very far away from war or any matters relating to colonisation.

Narrated by a young priviledged Algerian woman during her summer holiday, La Soif is the story of a complex foursome, two couples, who spend the summer together by the sea. As tensions rapidly build between the two women and men, the foursome disolves into a threesome. This mischievous slip will lead to tragic events that will affect the life of each character, for ever.

'La Soif' is an intimate and sensual novel. It is built looking inward, by a woman who looks at her body, and tries to understand its needs, her tendency for what she feels is petty cruelty, and the weight of her actions.

Djebar's first novel did not go unnoticed in France once released, and with it, Djebar emerged as a powerful voice to be reckoned with in literature.
'La Soif' appeared in English one year after its publication, in 1958, translated by Frances Frenaye as 'The Mischief' and published by Elek Books (Great James Street London). This translation seems to be one of the very first - if not THE first - novel by an Algerian writer translated into English.

Both the original work, La Soif, and the translation The Mischief are terribly hard to get a hold of as both seem out of print.

To celebrate 8 March - for what it's worth - here is the full English version 'The Mischief' in PDF -> THE MISCHIEF BY ASSIA DJEBAR

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Escape by Ahmed Akkache - the first Algerian Prison Break

'The Escape' (L'évasion) by Ahmed Akkache is the 'Prison Break' epitome of Algerian literature. Set in the 50s, Akkache tells the story of the attempted escape of five Algerian men imprisoned in the political wing of a French prison, in the city of Angers.

Ahmed Akkache was a communist militant and an important figure during the Algerian war of independence, as well as post-war. During his militancy, he was arrested by the French authorities. He was sent to France and jailed there - a customary tactic of the French authorities to break the link between freedom fighters and their groups, and which was implemented before and throughout the war of independence.

In these French prisons, Algerian militants were grouped in the same jail-wings to contain them, and to contain the news and facts of war that these men would otherwise necessarily reveal to French men if they were jailed together.
While in jail in Angers, Akkache managed to escape from the prison's hospital aided by a group of French communists. It is this real escape that Akkache has used to build the scenario of a daring and courageous 'prison break' in L'évasion

This novel was published in 1973 by SNED, and is prefaced by Yacine Kateb. The pair had known each other for 20 years and were great friends. They had met and worked together at the newspaper Alger Républicain.

Fancy reading L'évasion? Click here to download the full novel:

Ahmed Akkache, born in 1926, died aged 84 in 2010. Rest in peace. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

"The Woman in Black" by Susan Hill was a fantastic read, so fluid I read it all in practically one sitting. As deliciously eerie as an Edgar Allan Poe, gothic and dark, told in a language that brilliantly captures the tone of a late 19th novel (although written in 1983!)

The story is told by Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor sent by his firm to the funeral of their client Mrs Drablow, and instructed to go through all her documents to bring back those related to her estate. Mrs Drablow was a widow with no children who lived in a large house on the marshes outside the village. It is in the house that brave Kipps is going to spend the two nights that will change his life forever.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

"Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis is a novel described as a satire of academic life and of academics, and that's very much the axis on which the narrative revolves. Beyond that though, it is as much the story of a young man who tries to fit in and to make do with the only opportunities he feels are before him, both in his private life and in his working life and slowly, despite his efforts, finds himself suffocated by conformity and let's his (good humoured) nature take over. 

The story is set in the head of the main character, Jim, who describes everything he sees and hears with a joke. Initially, this is a bit tiresome for the reader as you might imagine. It took me a good one hundred pages to get used to this style and to fully see that beyond the jokes lay intelligent and deeply honest remarks about society's expectations, and about a rigid class system now beginning to break open within academia in 1950s.

Once I got used to the flow and figured out where all his jokes where heading to, I really enjoyed the story. One element did stick out throughout the novel though: every woman is portrayed as neurotic, irrational, or eccentric. The only redeeming quality in the woman Jim ends up falling for is her youthful beauty and self-righteousness (and she's loaded). Perhaps it was a comment on the author's part of how men were programmed to see women, or perhaps that is just how the author wanted them. All the same, as a woman I found it was an issue for me.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Record of a night to brief by Hiromi Kawakami

"I could see the moon, high up in the sky, and I could feel the breeze gently caressing my skin, but nothing of what I was expecting might happen was happening."

That's exactly how I feel about "Record of a night to brief" by Hiromi Kawakami, and not in a good way.

This was one of the most frustrating set of short stories I've read in a while. Why? Because the story line was as nonsensical as the writing was beautiful.

Kawakami uses magic realism, and folktales to slowly open a nightmarish-dream world but stops there. And she doesn't 'take' you there, she dumps you there, hence the frustration.

In the first story "Record of a night too brief", there was no narrative. It was a series of sentences stating events totally unrelated and left unexplained. A narrator moves from one vision to another in an 'Alice in Wonderland' style. The series of visions never ends, it contradicts itself endlessly too. There was no end, no beginning, no middle even. .

The second short, "Missing" was lovely however. A family is about to marry their son but in their family people can become invisible and even disappear from everyone's memory if gone too long. His sister tries her hardest to not forget him and observes the event that follow his 'disappearance'.

The third and last short "A snake stepped on" started great but then became as nonsensical as the first. A woman steps on a snake by accident and this means that a snake will come and inhabit her home until she agrees to become a snake too. A seduction and struggle follow between these two, and the woman realises she's not the only one struggling, everyone around her has had a run-into snakes taking human forms too. As the story progresses, it looses its narrative grip and again goes into what I can only describe as a series of hermetic and cryptic sentences.

Despite this strange read, I'll still try to read Kawakami's novels though, but she's just not my thing in short story form.