Friday, 21 December 2012

Algeria was NOT granted its independence. It took it!

This is an exchange initiated by @ayatghanem in response to Nabila Ramdani's latest piece in the Guardian "Comment is Free" section. Ramdani's article starts with "It is now half a century since Algeria, the jewel in the crown of Gallic imperialism, was finally granted independence".

You can check it on Storify or read it below (starting from the bottom up).

I find it infuriating that journalists discussing Algeria and Algerians use poorer and poorer language, churning and rechurning words and expressions thoughtlessly, often simplifying language for the 'general public to understand more easily', when it is only a clear lack and want of intellectual effort.

"Algeria was granted its independence" is the way the French authorities have been wording the historical fact that Algerians fought tooth and nail to get back their independence violently stolen by this former colonial power.  Algerians were granted nothing. They took back what was theirs by fighting for 8 years, 1954 to 1962. And it was no easy feat.  

If Algerian 'intellectuals' want to discuss Algerian matters it is to be welcomed and celebrated. Too few political experts, journalists, commentators, who discuss Algeria and who are known are of Algerian extraction.  But these individuals should watch their language and realise that the expressions they keep recycling are the very expressions of former colonial powers. This type of writing sustains and validates neo-colonialism, a neo-colonialism that is everywhere in the language of the former colonised. 

  1. nedoud
    @NabilaRamdani @ayatghanem Transfer of power is NOT called "granting" in the English language. someone needs an English dictionary!!
  2. @NabilaRamdani thx for the exchange all the same.
  3. .@NabilaRamdani i'm not talking abt your piece, but your opening sentence. If u don't realise what this sentence represents, others do +
  4. .@ayatghanem You might find it offensive, Ayat, but again it is a bureaucratic reality. War & its suffering clearly mentioned in my piece.
  5. @ayatghanem You're right. That's why I use words appropriately. #Algeria was granted indepce as part of the administrative transfer of power
  6. @NabilaRamdani when u just throw 'dz was granted indp', i find it offensive, remnant of colonial language. they 'granted'. it is belittling.
  7. @NabilaRamdani haha no I do get ur point, I am aware of historical facts :) I'm sensitive to language, journos shld b too, words r ur trade+
  8. @ayatghanem Ayat, you don't seem to get my point. The Evian Accords are a historical fact. They formally *grant* Algeria its independence!
  9. .@NabilaRamdani the prob is ur wording. Whether u recognise it or not, u r using the wording of the former coloniser: "DZ granted its indp"!
  10. .@ayatghanem @nedoud Evian Accords were the administrative side to 'granting' indepce.Whether you like or not there was a transfer of power!
  11. .@NabilaRamdani would be great that journos of Algerian origin stopped repeating this practice. 2/2

  12. ayatghanem
    .@NabilaRamdani "Algeria was given its independence' is the way France has been wording it for last 50 yrs 1/2
  13. .@ayatghanem The Evian Accords signed w/ the French achieve that on paper. I do mention a war was fought in my piece too & its human cost!

  14. ayatghanem
    Ya @NabilaRamdani, Algeria wasn't "granted independence", you should know that. It took it back.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Portraits of Algerian Women by Marc Garanger

The photographer Marc Garanger is exhibiting portraits of Algerian women he took between 1960 and 2004 in Kabylia.  The exhibition is taking place in Paris at the Centre Culturel Algerien.  Here are a few photos taken from this gallery, for an interview he gave to TV5 Monde (in French).

In this interview, he recounts he was one of the photographers that the French army employed to take photos of women forced to unveil (1960) during the ceremonies of forced unveiling organised by the French. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

What we talk about when we talk about Arabic

Arabic is a Semitic language first attested by inscriptions in the Arabian peninsula from about the 5th century BC carried by the expansion of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries AD to a large area across the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East, and thence, as a language of religion especially, much wider. Written in a North Semitic alphabet, in origin purely consonantal, but with marks for vowels added in the 8th century.

The language of the Koran is Classical Arabic, and modern Arabic-speaking communities are in the main diglossic, with a range of variation between ‘Modern Standard Arabic’, a form of Classical Arabic with a modernized vocabulary, and one of many national or local ‘dialects’. At sufficient distances these dialects are mutually unintelligible.”  So says the Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics.

Are language, dialect, Classical, Modern Standard, the 8th century and the MENA what we talk about when we talk about Arabic

Leaving aside the problem of assessing a foreign language (the Arabic, Semitic) using another’s (the English, Indo-European) terminology and concepts, when we discuss Arabic, we use terms that rely on many an assumption.  I have always found the adjectives chosen to describe the Arabic language strikingly tortuous and contradictory.  Modern Standard Arabic?  Is Modern meant as contemporary, as in the Arabic used today?  What of ‘Standard’? If ‘Standard’ refers to ‘standardised’ then it is referring to 12th century Arabic scholasticism during which the grammatical rules of Arabic were fixed.  If Standard is indeed a shortcut for ‘standardised in 12th century’ then ‘Modern’ in the sense of contemporary creates an incongruity: contemporary old Arabic? If Standard means regular, the compound would stand for ‘a regular type of contemporary Arabic’.  What kind of linguistic descriptions are these!

What of the Classical attribute? The term ‘Classical’ is a Western reference to its own time line, and to its own notion of a golden era.  ‘Classical’ is not appropriate for a non-Western time line.  Arabic had already shifted by the 8th century, early grammatical treatises attest to that. Arabic continued to develop synchronically during the 8th century also, it did not remain static; that is the nature of languages, they shift, they change.  The 8th-12th century does not correspond to a Classical era in the Arabic tradition. ‘Classical’ does not communicate an appropriate synchronic description of Arabic, nor a diachronic one. It freezes Arabic within a timeframe that is foreign and temporally misplaced.  The result of the kind of Arabic early and medieval grammarians were attempting to describe and categorise, and later, from the 12th century had to standardise for didactic purposes cannot be aptly described by ‘Classical’.  ‘Classical’ can indeed signify traditional, conventional, orthodox, established, and this array of meanings infers Arabic belongs to a fixed, rigid, frozen dimension. Languages are not motionless.  Arabic has not been motionless. Why is it that we do not refer to Arabic as we refer to other languages: describing them diachronically.  Why do we not designate Arabic according to its place in time: Ancient Arabic, old Arabic, middle Arabic, Arabic?

Classical Arabic and Modern Standard are not even translations of what Arabic calls itself. Both are foreign labels born out of a need to try and apprehend a language system most elusive.

Arabic in Arabic

Arabic in Arabic responds to two titles.  It bears a crown name: fuṣḥā (the eloquent and pure), and a birth name: al-3arabiya (the Arabic). The great dictionaries of Arabic lexicography, the All-Encompassing Ocean (Qamous al-Muhit), and the Tongue of the Arabs (Lisan al-3arab) define al-3arabiya, as ‘the language of the Arabs’.  Now, this is one clear definition. Fuṣḥā is an adjective meaning eloquent, and grammatically and semantically it describes a certain kind of Arabic.

Early and Medieval grammarians (8th to 12th century) were engaged in preserving and analysing this specific Arabic: fuṣḥā. Eloquent and pure is to be understood as that which respects the grammatical rules observed occurring in this particular language system, it is not a reference to ethnic purity.  Fuṣḥā was first observed and examined. Then, the rules it seemed to live by were laid out in grammatical treatises, and as time went on and as the number of new Arabic speakers (non-native and native) grew these rules became increasingly prescriptive.  The geographical area where Arabic was being taken was growing fast and a certain type of fuṣḥā was being codified.  Fuṣḥā and Arabic should not have become the amalgamated notion for a single speech phenomenon. Fuṣḥā is one manifestation of an Arabic whose origin still remains to be elucidated.  Fuṣḥā is an adjective after all, to identify, not a speech register, but a specific linguistic system responding to particular grammatical rules.  Fuṣḥā is not the origin of Arabic. Fuṣḥā is perhaps to be located between pre-islamic poetry and the revelation of Quran. These two terms, Arabic and fuṣḥā could help differentiate between a language whose origin we are still tracing (Arabic), and a language, part of a group and varieties for which we have written evidence (fuṣḥā). These two birth points (Arabic and the qualifier fuṣḥā) should be disassociated.  Because the orthodox Abrahamic narrative focuses on an Arabic placed at the origin of a community’s birth (the muslim umma), and because this focus has been the most prominent not to say the loudest, Arabic is often treated as the divine: its origin is certain, it is not to be questioned. The origin of language was much debated between the 8th–10th century. The debate was not about the origin of Arabic, it questioned the origin of human speech.  What a wretched development that such debates and critical inquiries have not continued.

The confusion or conflagration of two points of origin (origin of a religious community and origin of an entire language system) gave birth to a fuṣḥā fixation and a ‘dialectal’ inhibition.

Let us confess, yes, speakers of Arabic ‘dialects’ carry with them the fuṣḥā complex.  And it is a manufactured complex. This neurosis was created internally, during the Arab expansion and invasion, perhaps as early as the 12th century, and was reinforced pre- and post-decolonisation by Arab states. While the formulation of the neurosis came from an external source, outside the borders of the state – yes from my East I am indeed pointing westwards.

Where does our dialectal inhibition come from and what does its reasoning sound like?

In Arabic, several words mean dialect or vernacular, Arabic is rich that way we know.  3amiyya is a term used by Egyptians to refer to the Egyptian ‘dialect’. Lahja is one of the terms used in the Levant to refer to the region’s ‘dialects’. Derja is the term used in North Africa to designate the Algerian and Moroccan ‘dialects’.  These different terms are used to mean a dialect yet they refer to a language.  What? Are they not languages for you? Let’s look at how ‘experts’ formulate the language/dialect concepts.

The terms ‘language’ and ‘dialect’ remain problematic in Western linguistics and in Arabic studies.  In the 6th edition of A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics (David Crystal) we find:

Language:  “…. At its most specific level, it may refer to the concrete act of speaking, writing or signing (see SIGN language) in a given situation – the notion of PAROLE, or PERFORMANCE […]  A particular VARIETY, or LEVEL, of speech/writing may also be referred to as ‘language’ (e.g. ‘scientific language’, ‘bad language’), and this is related to the SOCIOLINGUISTIC or STYLISTIC restrictiveness involved in such terms as ‘trade language’ (see PIDGIN), the teaching of ‘languages for special purposes’ (in APPLIED LINGUISTICS), etc.

The notion of language may be seen both in a synchronic sense (e.g. ‘the English language today’) and a DIACHRONIC sense (e.g. ‘the English language since Chaucer’). Higher-order groupings can be made, as in such notions as the ‘Romance languages’ ‘CREOLE languages’. All of these examples would fall under the heading of ‘natural languages’ – a term which contrasts with the artificially constructed systems used to expound a conceptual area (e.g. ‘formal’, ‘logical’, ‘computer’ languages) or to facilitate communication (e.g. Esperanto).

This definition of language, abstract as it is (parole, diachrony, synchrony) relies on a notion of variety. This could go some way to help delimitate the two concepts language/dialect but ‘variety’ is also used to define dialects.

Dialect: A regionally or socially distinctive VARIETY of language, identified by a particular set of WORDS and GRAMMATICAL STRUCTURES. Spoken dialects are usually also associated with a distinctive pronunciation, or ACCENT.  Any language with a reasonable large number of speakers will develop dialects, especially if there are geographical barriers separating groups of people from each other, or if there are divisions of social class. One dialect may predominate as the official or STANDARD form of the language, and this is the variety which may come to be written down.  The distinction between ‘dialect’ and ‘language’ seems obvious: dialectas are subdivisions of languages. What linguistics (and especially  SOCIOLINGUISTICS) has done is to point to the complexity of the relationship between these notions. It is usually said that people speak different languages when they do not understand each other. But the so-called ‘dialects’ of Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc) are mutually unintelligible in their spoken form. (They do, however, share the same written language [surely, what is meant here is that they share the same script], which is the main reason why one talks of them as ‘dialects of Chinese’).  [OUR EMPHASIS]

‘Dialect’ is also sometimes applied to the linguistically distinct historical stages through which a language has passed, and here the term historical or temporal dialect might be used, e.g. Elizabethan English, seventeenth-century British English.

This definition of dialect is most relevant for Arabic.  First, the way Chinese ‘dialects’ are referred to is significant (and on a side note, it pleases me no end to find the mention “so-called dialects” in a specialist dictionary entry since that is exactly what it is: a model based on an alleged concept.  We are told that languages are recognisable because they are mutually unintelligible. Our Arabic ‘dialects’ are mutually unintelligible the further geographically located they are. Couldn’t it mean that Arabic ‘dialects’ are languages then? The understanding of Arabic dialects among Arabic speakers depends on the exposure of the hearer to these tongues, notwithstanding that Arabic dialects are genetically related to fuṣḥā. Understanding an Arabic ‘dialect’ does not depend only on the similarity of the ‘dialect’ itself to a ‘source’ language but having been exposed to it enough to pick it up.

Perhaps the most crucial part of this definition of dialect for assessing the case of Arabic is “One dialect may predominate as the official or STANDARD form of the language, and this is the variety which may come to be written down.” This is indeed what has happened with fuṣḥā.  From the time of revelation, one version of Arabic was favoured.  Arabic grammatical treatises of the 8th to 10th century contain many examples of other kind of usages that deviate from what was an expected form. These unusual syntactical and semantic examples were not in wide use. We also know that there existed the sab3a qira’at, seven readings, of Quran (revealed in seven ahruf) that attested to at least seven accents and dialectal variations with the reading (and writing) of Quran eventually standardised. The Bedouins were held to speak a variety of fuṣḥā that was the representative of a certain kind of Arabic. We can trace through the grammatical treatises that have come down to us that fuṣḥā, over at least 4 centuries (8th-12th) was both undergoing change and evolving in the form we mostly know today, and that what we now consider ‘exceptions’ were once considered only as uncommon and remnant of a better clearer (more eloquent) language.  With time, different semantic usages and different grammatical features of an evolving fuṣḥā were classed as ‘exceptions’. Written Arabic shows that there were and are three spheres intertwined: Arabic, fuṣḥā and ‘dialects’.

So, is Arabic a language or a dialect?  Is fuṣḥā a language or a dialect? Are our dialects, well, dialects? Let’s leave dictionary entries and inquire into the mind of the layman.  For many Western laymen, myself included, and for many of us Complexed-of-the-Tongue (Arabic dialect speakers) ‘language’ mostly refers to an official, general and wide-ranging use of speech while a ‘dialect’ is regional, with a more restricted use.  Thus, the word ‘language’ carries a positive connotation, and wears a formal respectable social cloak, while a dialect carries a neutral to negative connotation.

Let us explore etymologies.

‘Language’ is a Latin word that simply means ‘tongue’ (lingua).  ‘Dialect’ is a word of Greek origin and simply means ‘talk, conversation, speech’ (dialektos). We note that the positive term is of Latin origin while the negative connotation is carried by the Greek.  The negative-Greek versus the positive-Latin is amusing. It is a telling example of how our choice of words and the concepts they carry are still predisposed to promoting ancient Rome’s world view and the Roman sense of cultural superiority. Rome’s inheritors are still squashing the Greeks daily.

Inquiring a little further into our unqualified minds (ok, my unqualified mind), we seem to interpret a ‘dialect’ as a variety whose dimension is principally oral.  A dialect is often equated with the unwritten and with being difficult to render in writing. This assumed un-writable characteristic is a further sign of weakness and a failing according to a certain Western tradition that implicitly holds a worthy ‘tongue’ and therefore culture is one which is written.  The Western tradition is not the only one to hierarchically class the written above the oral. The Arabic tradition born in the 8th century rests on ‘iqra’, not the TV channel but the divine order that told us to ‘read!’. It thus encouraged the addressees to start writing in order to have something to read other than their hearts.  Only the divine knows the heart and that is not accessible reading for the neighbours and the rest of humanity. Nor is it inheritable, a crucial weakness.

A language then we could say is identifiable by at least two parameters: it is written and we are told it’s one.  Who tells us?

The nation-state.

To make a nation-state you only need three components: 1) a people, 2) a territory with borders, and 3) a language to claim that bordered territory and insult those who trespass.  That is when one version of a language is selected and crowned, and that this version is institutionally born. Note that these ingredients are violently singular, ONE language, ONE people. You all know the cruel joke that the difference between a language and a dialect is that the language has an army.  But wait, Algeria has an army, does it make Derja a language?  I say it does.

Talking of Algeria, in 1959 while Algerians were fighting for their independence against France who had taken ingredient number two to a fanatical extreme, a linguist called Fergusson came up with a much needed temporary explanatory solution for the problematic classification of language and dialect when these were in common daily use within one community. No, not bilingualism, too easy, but:  diglossia.  Charles A. Ferguson in the journal Word defined this linguistic phenomenon as that which “affects a speech community using two languages, genetically related or not”. One, he classed, represents a ‘high variety’ and the other of a ‘low variety’.  Ferguson defined the ‘high variety’ as the one used within literary discourse, and which holds a prestigious social position, and the ‘low variety’ was recognisable by its use in ordinary conversation.  Here we find again the hierarchy we encountered earlier as laymen: prestige (embodied by Latin, lingua) and lowly conversation (Ancient Greek based).

Thus, what appeared as a language/dialect division for Arabic was a case of diglossic variation, a sort of bilingualism, but involving two genetically related varieties.  Diglossia has a distinct socio-hierarchical flavour to it: the prestigious versus the ordinary. Have Arabic dialects no prestige? Are they not used as literary vehicles and in the arts?  But the Algerian language, sorry Derja dialect, is the language of a prestigious theatre. Sounds literary and prestigious enough, no? So we slowly come to the crux of my motivation: Derja is a language, not a variety or a dialect nor an offshoot of fuṣḥā.

It seems to me that it is not the tongues that are the problem. Their classification is a challenge and observing languages is a fascinating process when one doesn’t forget that it also is a scientific process: proof is needed, falsifiability must be applied. But languages are also a powerful political tool and that is when classifying languages becomes a dangerous, and revealing, instrument to validate cultural hegemony. What is highly problematic is the paradigm we use to think of language (based on the language/dialect or language/variety dichotomy) - a paradigm that is hidden under the term ‘definition’. The concepts language/dialect or language/variety are intellectual shackles.  Trying to rephrase and rethink dialect and language is akin to trying to wear the chains in a manner more comfortable.  This paradigm is based on a disturbing hierarchical division: a single point of origin (the language) with everything else emanating from that original (dialect or variety): not Adam and Eve but Language and Dialect, how biblical, no!  This arbitrary binary system language/dialect or language/variety paradigm also boxes language phenomena, so rich in essence, into two slots. Examining Arabic, a language as any other, according to a language/dialect or even a language/variety hierarchical and binary division is suffocating. It creates a circular, smothering cell. Let us try and burst a wall or two of it.


Could it be that there is no Arabic … but Arabics?  That what exists is a plurality of Arabic tongues, of languages, among which we find fuṣḥā.  The reality on the ground today certainly points that way, there are Arabics. What if there always had been Arabics?  Arabic ‘dialects’ are not poor renditions of fuṣḥā. They work according to their own grammatical and semantic rules.  Arabic dialects do not form cases of fuṣḥā-violations nor of fuṣḥā-corruptions.  Arabic 'dialects' were not born from rendering fuṣḥā incorrectly. Fuṣḥā did not give birth to Arabic 'dialects'. While it influenced Arabic 'dialects', it did not mix with the 'locals' and resulted single handedly in building fuṣḥā varities later called dialects. From the point at which we can trace fuṣḥā in detail (in grammatical treatises from 8th century onwards) we see that it changed and carried on changing.  Its modern rendition is just, well, fuṣḥā not the same but similar in many respects grammatically and syntactically, close but further removed grammatically and semantically.  Semitic languages do evolve just as any languages but Semitic languages are peculiar in that the changes are not as vast as what we find in old French and contemporary French for example.  This relative slow change can be a misleading factor.  But change, however little comparatively speaking, is still change.

Let me venture further and propose: could it be that Arabic is not simply a language, but a system? A linguistic system where this singular feminine noun, ‘Arabic’, represents not only a plurality of Arabics but also stands for a family of languages. This Arabic system would class as a sub-system of the Semitic branch and under its umbrella we would find fuṣḥā and our Arabic dialects languages.  If Arabic is the language of the Arabs, is it not plural by definition?  Arabs refers to a plurality. This classification would not discount the fact that each Arabic tongue can give rise to many local varieties.  I say, there are Arabics among which Derja, an Algerian language. And fuṣḥā stands next to each Arabic tongue as an equal, not a dictator.
Arabic tongues are not dialects submitted to the mother language fuṣḥā.  Arabic tongues are languages in their own rights within the Arabic system.  Arabic ‘dialects’ contain words we find in ancient fuṣḥā, yes, and their sentence structure has been observed as having given preference to one of the sentence structures already present in 8th century fuṣḥā. But some dialects also display sentence structures that are inherited from another linguistic system: Derja contains structural features of Tamazight.  Although the sentence structure varies from Arabic tongue (dialect) to Arabic tongue (dialect), each still belongs in part or in full to the Arabic system. They do not originate from fuṣḥā, they were affected by it and other languages.  ‘Arabic dialects’ are not corruptions of a pure form of Arabic. We simply do not know the origin of Arabic and of dialects.  We should also drop the puritanical search for purity, for a single singular point of origin.
In passing, we note that a majority of Arabic dialects happen to have a nation and a people and have officially been given the next best title: national languages (close to Language but not quite there yet!).  The ‘Arab world’ has classed Arabic tongues as dialects for political reasons. Only one version, fuṣḥā, was promoted in order to create a unified political entity. This promotion was pushed both during and after the Arab conquest, for administrative reasons not for the love of God (also known once as religion). It was promoted again when countries formerly belonging to the territories conquered by the Arabs were trying to free themselves from colonialism.  The countries that now belong to the ‘Arab world’ had to define their identity (well to defend their right to exist initially) and to prove their potential as nation-states: ONE language, ONE people, ONE territory. Ironically, countries in the ‘Arab world’ have tied a knot back to their glorious past using the formulations of the former coloniser as cord.

The binding material of a community is what it considers to be a shared identity. This shared identity is not explicitly stated until a calamity strikes: meeting the other. It only becomes necessary to explicitly define an identity when meeting an ‘other’ who does not belong to the community. It does not mean that the community’s identity did not exist pre-explicit-definition. It is a matter of the implicit giving rise to the explicit. Words have no meaning alone, they only acquire meaning when they are placed in relation to other words, they form a net and there are several nets layered.  We understand the word ‘sun’ in relation to yellow, moon, Kellogs cereals but ‘sun’ is meaningless outside of that net.  Communities are Iike words. A community acquires an explicit definition, an explicitly stated identity, when it is placed in relation to an ‘other’.  An explicitly stated definition does not give worth to the community. A community that has explicitly defined itself is not more worthy than one who has not.  A community who is becoming explicit has simply changed survival strategies. The need to define that identity becomes all the more urgent when that ‘other’ threatens to annihilate you (with its army and language for example).

For Algeria, the 30s saw an explicit stating of what was the Algerian identity. It was a time during which the former territories of the Arab invasion, having suffered at the hands of the ‘other’, the colonial powers, were shaping themselves as nation-states.  The definition chosen by and for these communities was based on a return to a former state of glory, relinking with the past before colonialism. Their return-formula was: one language (fuṣḥā), one religion, and one…. nope not region but… a whole wide world!  The ‘Arab’ world. Pow.  As fuṣḥā was not the language of Algerians, so came a forced linguistic and cultural Arabisation for Algeria.

Where I am heading with this?  Well, I was just thinking…. what do we talk about when we talk about Arab?

Monday, 10 December 2012

Algerian cartoonist Slim has started to blog

Since 10 November this year, the Algerian cartoonist Slim now blogs at SlimLeBlog !

Mid-month, he posted a short video from a talk he gave in 2008 at UCLA, California, where he was invited to talk about Human Rights in Algeria.  

(Click on the photo to go the video or click HERE) 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Vengeance will pass through Gaza - Youcef Khader

The history of the Algerian spy novel pretty much begins with Youcef Khader and Abdelaziz Lamrani. 

Youcef Khader is the pseudonym of Roger Vilatimo, a French spy novelists who published an enormous amount and under several pseudonyms.  Algeria inspired Youcef Khader's spy book series are as such they undoubtedly form a part of Algerian spy and crime novels.

Khader published six spy novels where the many perilous missions of  Mourad Saber aka agent SM 15 unfold.  Saber is 30, Algerian through and through meaning of course honourable, noble, fearless, stubborn and quite nuts.  His past is explosive: he was an ANL fighter in the Aures region, then he was promoted to work for the Military Security (the SM) in counter-intelligence. His nickname is Shams El-Din, the sun's faith, oh yea!

Mourad Saber is of course incredibly gifted: he speaks a wide range of languages with no accent, has an uncanny sixth sense for knowing without looking who's hidding and planning a threatening move (useful in night time combat or blinded by the sun), is well-versed in martial arts which makes him deadly at close range (the 'ninjas' were a reality of Algeria's recent history) and most of all his causes are pure.

In Vengeance will come to Gaza (La veangeance passera par Gaza), this noble spirit will fight against injustice and this brings him to Gaza to bring vengeance, as the title indicates.

We're in the 70s, and Saber is called on by his unit in Algeria to go and help Fateh, the Palestinian political party, to help clean up Palestinian resistance-cells who have been infiltrated by the Israeli army.  Every planned strike against the Israeli army fails and has been failing for some time screaming sabotage. It has therefore become clear that a mole or several have infiltrated the group and they must be found. But there is so much mistrusts between Palestinian agents and the Palestinian people that Fateh decides to bring in someone from outside who will be able to see the situation with a fresh eye, unbound by alliances to assess each individual impartially.  

Vengeance will pass through Gaza was written in French and has not been translated. It's a very enjoyable and well-balanced spy-novel. I had anticipated, given the subject and the era it was written in, that it would be quite caricatural, but it is not.  Not every Israeli army man and woman is evil, far from that. Even in the army, the author openly discusses the attempts by Jewish army men to counter the gratuitous violence and sadisms that israeli army agents, who are simply blood thirsty muderers hiding behind an army suit, impose on Palestinians. Khader makes his Jewish men and women characters talk of their utter disgust at seeing the same violent methods they suffered at the hands of the nazis being used by their own people against Palestinian civilians and resistants alike.  In a parallel manner, he broaches the subject of Palestinian who do not want to fight the Israeli army and Israeli colonisation, not because they are traitors 'to the cause' but because they are tired, frightened and disheartened.

Khader lays it on thick with the 'race' thing though. The Arab race, the something race, the this and that race.  It is not Khader's fault necessarily, I have a pet hate for the term.  Race is one of the most misused words in the story of naming.

All in all, great plot, well written, entertaining and engaging novel.  Next up, Mohamed Benayat.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Chrysalis by Aïcha Lemsine

The Chrysalis is a novel by Algerian novelist Aïcha Lemsine. The English version was translated from the French La Chrysalide by Dorothy S. Blair who has done a splendid job, at no point did I sense this was a translation apart from the use of "old chum" that I cannot imagine any North African using in English to convey something like mon cher.  It was published in 1976 in French by Editions des femmes and picked up by Quartet books who published it in English in 1993.

In the English version, the book opens with an Introdution penned by the author dated 1993, at a time when the situation had seriously deteriorated in Algeria.  In this intro, Lemsine has an amusing little rant: "Exposing the archaic condition of women at the time of Socialism in Algeria was not without risk... In fact, while readers and critics in Tunisia, Morocco and Europe were almost unanimous in their enthusiastic welcome of the Chrysalis, in Algeria the book was banned and subjected to the destructive condemnation of certain so-called left-wing intellectuals, in the service of the regime." [my emphasis] At this point, I should tell you that Aisha Lemsine is the spouse of an Algerian diplomat.  But this point raised by the author got me thinking further on the fiction's relationship with facts.  What was Lemsine's intention before grabbing her pen? Was it to weave a fiction (inspired by facts as any fiction is) to express her own views through her craft about a situation she found both outrageous and inspiring.  Or was it to use fiction as a very light cloak to denounce a factual situation.  If the latter weighed more, then this book would not be fiction but a historical analysis.  I am certain though, that it is fiction I read.

In this intro, Lemsine explains her title choice. Why the Chrysalis? It is not at all obvious in the story.  She explains that the symbolim "is to be found in the struggle for life attached to the chrysalis's efforts to emerge from the darkness of its cocoon.... the essential thing is this sublime impetus towards freedom and light." The Chrysalis being the Algerian woman.

The novel recounts the story of a family over three generations. It is a small book though, a mere 175 pages to tell the life of an entire family before, during and post-war in Algeria up to the mid-70s.  But the aim seems to lay elsewhere, that of telling the evolving social condition of the Algerian woman, and her rights or lack thereof, during these three cornerstone eras.

I liked Lemsine's style (in translation at least), I must check her out in French. She weaves a story with a fluid, easy language; the rhythm is natural and engaging throughout. The first third of the story was very compelling. 

The story begins with the description of a woman's scream lasting two pages. A wretched scream, from the depths of sorrow, a scream of anger, of despair, of rebellion. Of revolution.  As it starts echoing throw the lines, we discover that it belongs to Khadidja who is turning towards the past jsut as we are turning the page opening the family saga: "A whole past emerged from the depths of time, recalling a story, similar to thousands of others that form the landmarks for society, and what traditions, deformed by men, had made of these stories."

So far so brilliant.  The story of Khadidja unfolds. She is married at 16 to a man she had never seen, comes to live in a far away village in her husband's family home with her mother-in-law, and three sisters-in-law.  Luckily Mokrane her spouse is deeply in love with her and she him but Khadidja will come to face a village-woman's lot: polygamy, sterility, oppressive traditions which relegate a woman's say to naught.

You get the picture.

Past the first third of the book, the dimension of the characters becomes too caricatual. There are too many characters for less than 200 pages and when the focus' changes from Khadikja to her husband's daughter, the rhythm feels broken.  A great deal of calamities strike Khadidja and Si Mokrane's family, following each other too closely and the story became stretched.  But this is romance, with a much eau de rose (rose water).

It is then that I realised what I actually had in my hands: possibly the first Algerian modern romance writer! 

Aïcha Lemsine aka Aïcha Laidi is an Algerian novelist born in 1942. She writes in French.

She continues writing through her blog here :

She published two other books after The Chrysalis: one in 1978, Porphyry Skies (Ciel de porphyre) and in 1983, The Voices's Trial by Ordeal (Ordalie des voix).  She has been translated in English and Arabic (also in Spanish I am told).

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Ramadan Kareem

Happy Ramadan to everyone,

♥ Ramadan Kareem ♥ Ramadan Mubarak ♥ Saha Ramdankum ♥

Have a blessed month.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Djamal Amrani - Algerian Poet

"Ombre Absurde in Days colour of the sun (Jours coleur de soleil)

acharnée à ma masturbation
ma mort
mon suicide détramé.
Débris de moi
Débris de rien
Debout sur mon cadavre
fascinantes morgues
de mon delirium
après tout qu'on change les DRAPS.
en moi
que la trace
de ton


Algerian poet Djamal Amrani was born in 1935, in Sour-El-Ghozlane, and passed away in 2005.  He wrote in French and published 16 poetry collections, one novel and one theatre play.  He participated in the struggle against France during the war of independence, and in the Battle of Algiers in 1957 - he was caught and tortured for a month. He was then released and sent in exile in Paris.  When independence was won, the Algerian government mandated him to be Algeria's ambassador in Cuba.  His first book The Witness was published in 1960.  In 2004, he was awarded the Pablo Neruda medal for his poetry.

Kheireddine Ameyar said that Amrani did not write poetry, he "heard it". Novelist, poet and journalist Tahar Djaout said that Amrani's poetry was a "meeting between the possibilities of language and the contorsions of a body refusing to submit".  Djaout is also reputed to have said that "out of all the poets of the revolution, Djamal Amrani is the one who fulfilled his promises the most. He not only succeeded in establishing continuity for his poetry when so many others came to a halt, but he also, just as the other great poets such as Mohamed Dib and Jean Sénac, explored new territories".

His poetry titles are: 

The Sun of our night (Soleil de notre nuit, Éditions Subervie, Rodez 1964. Préface de Henri Kréa. Encres de Aksouh. Poésies suivies de nouvelles).  

Song for the 1st of November (Chant pour le 1er Novembre, ABM, Paris 1964 (Édition de luxe à tirage limité). Eaux fortes de A. Benanteur.)

The Witness (Le témoin, roman, SNED, Alger, 1960.)

Bivouac of certainties (Bivouac des certitudes, SNED, Alger, 1969.)

As far as my eyes can carry me... (Aussi loin que mes regards se portent... - Éditions SNED, Alger 1972.)

Days colour of the sun (Jours couleur de soleil, poèmes, SNED, Alger, 1979.)

Between tooth and memory (Entre la dent et la mémoire, SNED, Alger, 1981.)

Summer of your skin (L'été de ta peau, poèmes, SNED, 1982.)

The highest source (La plus haute source, poèmes, ENAL, Alger, 1983.)

Clay of Embolism (Argile d'embolie, poèmes, Laphomique, Alger, 1985.)

In the light of your body (Au jour de ton corps, poèmes, ENAL, Alger, 1985.)

Demining memory, poetry (Déminer la mémoire, poèmes, ENAL, Alger, 1986.)

Upstream (Vers l'amont, poèmes, Alger-ENAL, 1989.)

The Night inside (La nuit du dedans, Paris, Marsa.)

His theatre play was published in 1973 : There is no such a thing as chance (Il n'y a pas de hasard - Éditions SNED, Alger.)

His short stories collection was published in 1978 : The last sunset (Le Dernier crépuscule - SNED, Alger.)

Amrani's poetry has not been translated into English unfortunately. Very few of his poems are to be found on the net, I have only been able to find three.

Here are a few poems, I will carry on adding some (my favourite though!):

"Oubli plus qu'affirmation in Demining Memory (Déminer la Memoire)

Oubli plus qu'affirmation
Coeur plus que veine
Chair plus qu'ombre
Enigme plus que mystère
Eté plus que guerre."

"Non.... in Days colour of the sun (Jours coleur de soleil)

je ne suis pas de ceux
qui meurent avec les loups
Saison rêvée du bonheur
et de la grande crue
derrière tes volets
je te guette
je te fixe
je te coule
mon souvenir diapré
mon arc-en-ciel si bref
je te rive à ras-bord."

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Safia Ketou - The Mauve Planet

"- Why should I change? My personality does not vary according to my residence."
"- As for me, I adapt to all environments."
The Mauve Planet

by Safia Ketou

Safia Ketou (of her real name Zohra Rabhi) is an Algerian short story writer who wrote in French. Born in 1944. She committed suicide in 1989.
Safia Ketou wrote short stories, and children story books.  She also published a collection of poetry, Citar Friends (Amie Cithare), and a play called Asma.

The wonderful fact about this young Algerian writer is that she is (probably) the first contemporary Algerian writer to have written science-fiction. I'm glad to say that our first sci-fi writer post independence was a woman. 

Her short story collection The Mauve Planet and Other Stories (La Planete Mauve et Autres Nouvelles) is a series of tales set in space, or outside of space and time, in mythical places and were written between 1962 and 1978.

Safia Ketou's style is simple, nude in a sense. Her texts and her vision of an outer world remind me of Neil Gaiman's sense of the fantastic (see his collection Fragile Things). The stories start simply enough, and the reader follows the tone of a tale that echoes childhood memories, until suddenly the story has edged towards something bordering on horror.

Because The Mauve Planet is practically forgotten altogether in Algeria and unknown abroad, and because it has not been republished anywhere (nor has not been translated in English, as the rest of Ketou's work), I thought I'd bend the rules of authors estates' rights and translate one of here stories to publish it here.

She deserves to be remembered, these stories deserve to be known, in Algeria and abroad particularly in English because I never want to have to sit again in a lecture hall listening to a MENA literature specialist telling me that North Africa, for all its glory, hasn't yet managed to produce science-fiction work ....

In honor of your memory ya Zohra Rabha-Safia Ketou.

"The Mauve Planet :

Together, Ryad and Alym had checked shuttle Faiza 7’s flight deck.

They had filled up on fuel and bought restoratives in the astronauts’ shop.

Their new space-suits had just been delivered. Their material was resistant to everything.

Finally ready, the two astronauts had waved to the commander of Base 88 before climbing into their unit.  

They had left the earth just as the first snowflakes were landing on the ground.

The first part of their voyage went perfectly smoothly.  The galaxies bore splendid hues and their shimmer filled the screen with scintillating poetry.

Ryad was singing in his cabin looking at the stars, while Alym kept an eye on the steering needles chewing on vitamin pills.

To calm his nerves, Ryad put his seat in semi-horizontal position and took a nap.

Alym’s attention was suddenly aroused.  He noticed that the steering needles had begun to dance while the ignition levers were flashing, signalling an alarm.

Worried, he began to try stabilizing the needles but in vain.  Instinctively, his team mate had awoken and was radio-calling the Air Base.  He was only receiving a kind of muddled, rustling sound impossible to decipher. 
The waves were scrambled.  He thought out loud:

- We are cut off from earth.

- We are changing direction, said Alym who was observing the control panel.

The space-shuttle was supposed to go towards the moon where a new base had been built in 1980; but a mysterious phenomenon was altering Faiza 7’s trajectory.  The direction the shuttle was now on followed an irresistible force attracting it towards Shipwreck-Space.

Greatly distressed, Alym called out:

- The Tenth Space !

- We’re finished, said Ryad, his eyes fixed on the control panel.

But the main needle stabilised on 90 degrees, and the alarm signals stopped flashing.

- Our shuttle seems auto-guided, noticed Alym.

- Who is this super pilot leading us by the nose, asked Ryad intrigued.

This question, somewhat premature, relaxed the atmosphere.  The two astronauts looked at each other, and a burst of laughter began to fill their chest, up to then constricted by anguish.


Soon, a large purple planet appeared on Faiza 7’s front screen.  A surprise whistle escaped Ryad.  His companion hurried to switch the system’s powerful cameras on.

- Photo souvenirs for my wife, he said with a cheeky wink.  Ryad pulled a skeptic face:

- You are very optimistic, to hope to see her again.

- Why shouldn’t I be?

- That’s true, Ryad admitted, I am being dramatic.

- Let’s take the Y pills, advised Alym.

- We will need all our faculties, indeed.

- Take pills R also.

- Ok, but…

An unexpected crackling sound interrupted him mid-sentence.

The two pilots jumped in fear, their anguish was reaching culminating levels when a voice made their back microphone vibrate.

- Earthlings, do you hear me?

Utter fright.  The two men were barely breathing.  A heavy silence punctuated the question.  Ryad tried to break from his suffocation but emitted no sound.

Pale, Alym had the presence of mind to remark:

- He spoke in Esperanto.

Straight away, the mysterious voice explained:

- We know every language.

Ryad was now back in control of himself. He was carefully listening while keeping an eye on the voice recorders which had just kicked in.

Completely back to his usual self-control now, Alym asked:

- who are you?

- I am the leader of the XYRYX.

Meanwhile, Faiza 7 had softly landed like a falling leaf on an autumnal ground.

- Where are we? Ryad said.

The voice with no face replied:

- You are on the Mauve Planet.

- I’ve never heard of it, admitted Ryad.

- Take off your protective suits and come out of your shuttle.

- Is there oxygen on this planet? Alym worried.

- There is, yes, you will not need your helmets.

Without waiting, the two men took off their space suits and proceeded to leave their respective communicating units.  Then, they crossed the outside barrier leading them to the exit.

Unfamiliar fragrances tickled their noses.

Having reached the bottom of the ladder, they stopped to breathe and fill their lungs with the sweet breeze playing with their hair.  Awaiting instructions from the XYRYX’s leader, they exchanged their first impressions in code. 

The two companions were no longer anxious.  Fear had turned into curiosity, the pair had always been fond of new experiences and suspense.

Almost impatiently, they awaited further instructions. Nothing. The strange voice had stopped.

The two men began to walk on the mauve sand, spread as far as the eyes could see.

According to their earth-watch, they had walked for only a few minutes when they saw a green city raising from the ground, about a hundred meters from where they stood.  Thinking he was being tricked by a mirage, Alym asked Ryad:

- are you seeing what I’m seeing?

-  what are you seeing?

- A city. It has just sprung up from the desert.

- then it’s not a mirage, concluded Ryad with an comical accent which made Alym laugh nervously. He felt he was losing grip of his senses.

- Go on, grumbled Ryad, we are both lost in a mauve desert, with mobile cities popping up the ground, and Mister Happy Alym finds it possible somehow to crack up with laughter.

- What ... Alym was trying to explain but was again shaken with irrational laughter.

- Don’t choke yourself, I haven’t taken my first aid kit.

- To butcher me with ! No thanks.

The two men were making their way on the green city’s main avenue while arguing.

- I really could do with a coffee, said Ryad seeing a drinking area through the transparent city walls.

- Let’s go in, Alym decided, pushing the door.

A hubbub welcomed the two men who saw about twenty people in metallic clothing, sat or standing near the bar.  They were completely flat and wore a number on their chest.  Their heads had two faces, they did not need to turn to examine the two new faces and in a second, the realisation of their arrival froze the assembly.

All noises stopped.  Ryad felt that a threat was floating over them and became pale.

Alym did not hesitate. In a measured tone, he spoke to the room in these terms:

- “we are earthlings and, by accident, we have arrived on your planet.” A few exclamations were heard. One of the men raised his hand to call for calm. He came to meet the two men and declared:

- It was not an accident.

Ryad whistled and Alym said:

- How so?

The man was wearing number 318 and made an appeasing gesture:

- Your deviation was provoked.

- Why? Ryad asked.

- You will know in good time.

Upon hearing this evasive answer, the two men looked at each other, not in the least enthusiastic about this news.

XYRYX 318 invited them to sit down and signalled the barman. As soon as he did so, the two guests saw before them glasses containing a whitish liquid with an undefinable taste.  They had a difficult time hiding their cringes while drinking.

XYRYX 318 was keeping an eye on the content level.  Seizing an opportune moment, he amiably offered:

- do you want some more?

Hurriedly and revealingly, Ryad quickly replied:

- No thank you.

Alym tried to repair his companion’s rudeness.

- It’s tasty but, he said, but …

Not waiting to hear more, XYRYX 318 called the waiter once more who brought the same drink in larger glasses. There was enough to refresh a whale.

Ryad gave Alym with a sarcastic look.

- It’s delicious isn’t it? He riled.

Alym glared at him while smiling diplomatically for those around him.  Then, he took advantage of XYRYZ 318 being distracted to empty his glass in a flower pot. “I hope this will not harm them” he thought.

Very relaxed, Ryad began to question his host.

-          Why, he wondered, is this city moving?

-          It’s a preventive measure, against an atomic war, explained XYRYX 318.

-          That’s astute.

-          This way, during the day, soldiers guard the city, weapon in hand. At night, we make the city go down below ground so that everybody can rest running no risks.

-          So why do you not continually live underground?

-          Because the air system does not work at night.

-          Really?

-          Yes, this planet’s air is called Pleasure Air, it stops old age.

-          And what effect does it have on earth men?

-          That’s what we’re going to find out, declared XYRYX 318 standing up, come with me.

The two men followed XYRYX 318 outside. There, the latter took out of his pocket a device not bigger than a matchbox.  Pressing the only control on it, he asked:

- You do know this, don’t you?

- No, admitted Alym.

- It’s a car radio-control device. With it, wherever I am my vehicle can find me as soon as I call for it.

And indeed, the rolling engine stopped neatly before the two surprised men who exclaimed:

- With no driver!

XYRYX 318 smiled:

- it’s radio-controlled. The engine works everywhere; in the air, under water or on the ground.

- That’s wonderful, Ryad exclaimed while going around the multiform machine.

- Do you want to go in? offered XYRYX 318, opening the doors.

- With pleasure, the two men replied, climbing in the strange car.

XYRYX 318 got behind the wheel. Starting it up, he said:

- Even though it is automatic, I prefer to drive it myself as in the good old days.

The auto-boat-shuttle rode for a bit before taking off.  Through enlarging glass-windows, the two men could look at the cities and the fields of the Mauve Planet. A symphony of colours charmed their dazzled eyes.

The landscape was so harmonious that Ryad felt his painter’s fingers tickle. Faced with this illustrated book, he felt he had become a child again, just for an instant.

Next to him, Alym was taken by a sweet drowsiness rocked by the machine’s regular movements.  XYRYX 318 was a very good driver.

Suddenly, a sort of a brontosaur-shape rose up on the horizon, almost touching the windshield. Seeing the monster, the two men screamed with fright.

Their host began to laugh:

- you are scared, he noted.

- It’s …. It’s a monster, stuttered Ryad.

- Not at all, XYRYX 318 said.

- What is it? Stammered Alym.

- A castle, that’s all.

- That’s all, repeated Alym ironically.

After the beauty of the landscape, it was a peculiar sight.  Blue with fright, Ryad murmured:

- Gloomy…

- This is where our leader resides, the driver said.

“He’s got tastes” thought Alym, while his companion was elbowing him in the ribs, lightly, with common understanding.  With a critical eye, the two men began to examine the aspect of this strange residence.  It seemed to be made out of materials unknown to them.

A true aesthete, Ryad was profoundly shocked.  He could not help but observe:

 - Strange architecture. Who could have conceived such a thing?

- Me, quietly replied XYRYX 318.

- Oh, do forgive me, sputtered Ryad blushing.

- That’s quite all right, it's nothing.

- You are not offended?

- No, because your opinion matters little to me.

Alym was waiting for this opportunity.

- Ha! Take that! He triumphantly punctuated.

Ryad raised his shoulders. The XYRYX touched a handle. The vehicle lost altitude and softly landed on the main roof.

Opening his door, XYRYX 318 explained:

- this residence is also a spaceship.

- A spaceship? Exclaimed Alym who was passionate about mechanics.

- Yes, it’s practical, our leader frequently takes off on last minute trips.

Having left the plane to the care of technicians, the three of them entered the place via electric stairs.

Amazing! While the exterior of this rocket-palace was plain looking, its interior was delightful, welcoming: a jewel case.

In the first room, the walls were luminescent, the draperies were perfumed, and convertible furniture boasted an ultra-modern decor.

XYRYX invited the two men to sit down. He checked the time on his ring-watch and left.

Alym and Ryad went round the room, discovering previously unimaginable objects.

As their host was taking some time to come back, they began to smoke nourishing-cigarettes.

- Exquisite! Ryad said approvingly, inhaling a second time.

- Indeed, agreed Alym, they are much better than ours.

After having quickly browsed through a comic-strip left in the room, Ryad laid down on the air-conditioned sofa and fell instantly asleep.

Soon after, Alym did the same, unable to resist the call of the soft pillows singing calming melodies.


When they woke up, the two men realised they had been moved to a bedroom with two beds.

Ryad stretched himself for a long while before he spoke to his friend who had buried himself in fur.

 - We are really being treated like princes, said he.

- Or like hostages, finished Alym.

- Don’t be such a pessimist, begged Ryad while readjusting  his perfumed pillow.

-  It is not pessimism but realism, corrected Alym.

Ryad laughed brushing it off:

- Look at this luxury.  Isn’t it an ideal place to regain some strength?

Alym scratched his head perplexed:

- I don’t see what XYRYX’s aim is.

- Nor do I, confessed Ryad, we will soon find out …

- You are a patient disciple of madame Waiting.

- Let us rather say that I let myself live.  And as long as there is life, there is hope.

- The theory is defensible, but if I must give you some advice, don’t believe in fairy stories.

- You are always so full of suspicions. You haven't changed.

- Why should I change? My personality does not vary according to my residence.

- As for me, I adapt to all environments.

- As you wish. But do recognise that we have not been brought here for our looks.

Ryad burst out laughing.

- Why not? He said. Maybe there is a lovely XYRYX princess who has fallen in love with one of us.  She ordered her technicians to alter the trajectory our spaceship and …

Alym interrupted him:

- Stop dreaming, our reputation has not crossed to the Tenth dimension.

Seeing that his friend was taking this to the first degree, Ryad tapped on his shoulder saying calmly:

- You are so credulous Alym, you take everything I say at first value.

- Of course I do, you never stop joking.

While they were talking, the two men examined the place with attention.  They noticed several devices the use or handling of which they did not recognise.

The window was slightly ajar, opening onto a well-kept garden, filled with luminous flowers of unknown species.

About an hour after they had freshened up, a woman’s voice surprised the two pilots:

- Would you like something to eat?

They noticed it was coming from the intercom on the wall. They replied yes.

Immediately, a young woman, wearing number 1,000 on her chest, entered the bedroom. She was pushing a rolling table full of beautifully presented dishes from which floated a delicious aroma.  Every pieces of her clothing was made of embroidered aluminium.

With a lovely smile, she welcomed them and introduced herself as their guide-interpreter.  Then, she sat at the table in front of them to show them how to eat the Mauve Planet's food.

While making sure they were not lacking anything, she questioned them and feeling at ease they answered.  XYRYX 1,000 was really a charming and cultivated hostess.

The two colleagues tasted the dishes she was serving them and noticed her thin fingers were adorned with gold filaments. Under her spell, they were letting themselves be rocked by her crystalline voice.  She insisted:

- Do take more fruits, they are very light.

Alym couldn’t stop asking questions.

- Are there schools here? He asked.

- No, we are all autodidacts.  Each one of us has a small device he can consult at any moment, anywhere.

- What do you call this instrument?

- We call it the Professor.

- Professor?

- yes, because we have the possibility to ask it any question and it has the ability to answer all of them with exactitude.

- But who teaches you the basics?

- Our parents. When we are born, they provide us with food, accommodation, and clothing.  At the same time, they become our educators until we acquire this teaching device, that is, the Professor.

- do you get practical classes?

- There are science laboratories as well as pedagogical museums equipped with the most sophisticated tools.  You can meet the planet’s greatest scientists, and go and talk to them without asking for an appointment first.

- And what about language teaching?

- We rely on the audio-visual method.  Our recorders and televisions have a great recognition power. We can be present and assist to all interplanetary conferences.

Ryad also wanted to question the young woman.

- How are marriages done here? He asked.

- Unions have nothing problematic about them, as they occur by number.

- What do you mean?

- Couples are formed very simply. For example, woman 120 will marry man 120.

- How odd, grunted Ryad, and are there divorces?

- Never.

- Why not?

- Because for us, no problem is insoluble. A physical or moral discord is a disease we treat. There are remedies for all ills, a solution to all problems.

- It’s rational, but are you really happy?

- Happy? As much as one can be. I confess that personally, I aspire to nothing else if that is what you mean…

- Are you married? Asked Ryad.

She blushed but nonetheless replied:

- When Man 1,000 comes back from his mission, we will get married.

So as to stop his friend embarrassing their hostess further, Alym asked:

- Could I ask what doctrine have you opted for, on this planet?

- We have opted for scientific socialism. No one is needy here.  We eliminated private property and state capitalism a long time ago.  Social justice is a concrete reality. Our leader is not a dictator but a guide for us.

- So it’s a success, admitted Alym.

- Perfect, confirmed Ryad with a sneer.

Alym understood that his friend was making fun of him. He said to the interpreter:

- You know, my friend Ryad is a thorough capitalist.

- It shows, she said.

Suddenly, the mural intercom crackled and a man’s voice called out:

- Hello XYRYX 1,000?

- Yes, I’m listening.

- Bring the earthlings to our leader.

- Ok, over and out.

This brief discussion had taken place in a language foreign to the two men. XYRYX 1,000 translated it in these terms:

- Our leader is waiting for you.

Alym and Ryad followed the hostess through the flowery corridors of the spaceship-city.  At the end of the last corridors, an asbestos door suddenly opened to let the four armed men accompanying the earthlings and the guide come in.

All seven of them ascended in an elevator taking them to the private chambers of the XYRYX’s leader. Two ugly giants were guarding the entrance. XYRYX 1,000 spoke to them in a tongue unintelligible to the two men.  After talking with each other, the guards signalled to the soldiers who were standing very straight and immobile.  Promptly, they abandoned their military posture and searched the newcomers before letting them go through what was for them a threshold of mystery.

As soon as they took their first step inside, the two men were spellbound.  A bewitching music had welcomed them. The beauty of the place was beyond worldly imagination. All sense of time had vanished, the atmosphere’s density seemed heavier to them, almost unbearable.  Close to fainting, they were nonetheless walking behind a smiling hostess who kept turning around to check on them and reassure them.

Finally, she succeeded in dissipating the anguish that had engulfed them.  With one movement of the hand, the music stopped.  She had dismissed the spell and she announced:

- Here is the leader of the XYRYX.

The earthlings’ eyes rested on the same spot.  They saw a being with no head, lying on a round bed.  He spoke in Esperanto:

- Sit down, earth men.

They obeyed keeping their eyes fixed on the leader who continued:

- I diverted your ship because I need you.

Ryad exclaimed :

- Us!

- Yes, I am about to die.

When he said these words, a woman’s voice coming from some place hidden, a voice intensely sad, began to recite.  The leader of the XYRYX heaved a long sigh and proceeded:

- Death is nigh.

A shudder froze the atmosphere.  Alym tried to be warm and said:

- Well, one is never sure.

- It is alas, said the leader of the XYRYX, because when the people of this planet are about to die, they become invisible for a little while, just before.

Frowning, the two men nodded dubiously.  As if to convince them, the leader added:

- Can you not see that my head is no longer visible?

During these long moments, no comforting sound of life could have made the fear which had taken over the room go away.  Ryad could no longer stand this oppressive silence.  He stood up screaming like a mad man:

- Speak! Oh would you just speak!

The young woman can over to stop him as he was about to throw himself out of the window.

She brought him back to his seat to make him drink a calming potion.  Then, she pushed on a button hidden under the table.  As soon as she did so, the calming sound of sea waves and seagulls started.  The atmosphere relaxed. Alym sighed of relief.

Very much shaken, Ryad exclaimed:

- The sea! I want to see the sea!

The hostess replied to him gently:

- There is no sea on the Mauve Planet.

- It’s a recording, isn’t it? Alym said.

- Yes.

During this interminable exchange, the leader of the XYRYX had remained composed.  Calmly, he spoke again:

- As I was telling you, my life is about to end…

- Alas…., cried the young girl.

- It will be a great loss for your people, Alym sympathised.

- You have just come to the crux of the matter.  These people, that I dearly love, have always placed their trust in me while I was living. And my death must not alter anything.

- Yes indeed, agreed Alym, indeed.

Ryad had come back to his senses. He asked:

- What can we do?

- It’s simple, I count on the two of you.

- On us? They were both stunned.

- Yes, let me explain …

He hesitated before beginning:

- Do you know that earth men become immortal when they come to this planet?

The two men opened their eyes wide and said in unison:

-          What!

Seeing he effect of his revelation, the leader of the XYRYX laughed a discreetly.

- And so? Said Alym.

- And so, you have become indestructible.

Impulsively, Ryad applauded and cried out:

- Marvellous!

As for Alym, he only smiled and observed:

- When my wife finds out, she’s…

The leader of the XYRYX interrupted him:

- You wife will never see you again.

- What? Said Alym who couldn’t believe his ears.

- You will remain here, specified the leader.

- But … what for?

- When I die, you will take my place.

- Leader of the XYRYX!

- Their eternal leader.

- Is this a proposition or an order?

- An order, the leader stressed.

Ryad felt that fear was overwhelming him. He wanted to act naïve:

- If I understand correctly, he said to his friend, you’re in real trouble.

Unperturbed, the leader added:

- You are in the same situation. You will be his deputy.

Immediately, Ryad did not feel like joking any longer.  He was certain at present. The leader of the XYRYX would achieve his goals.

Alym thought he was living a nightmare. His reason was leaving him. Ryad saw such anguish in his eyes that he decided to attempt a last plea.  Firmly, he asked:

- What about our families?

- Already, you no longer have families.

- It’s inconceivable! protested Alym.

With a calm voice, the Leader of the XYRYX explained:

- Understand me well, he said, I do not want you to reproduce.  Planet Mauve must not be submerged by little earthlings and by their descendants later.  In that event, my people would be in danger. Especially since they themselves are mortals.

Ryad discovered a breach in that speech. He declared:

- Conclusion: you should let us go.

- No, my decision is taken. Because I love my people I wanted to thank them before I die. And how? By delegating an eternal leader whose duty will be to safeguard unity and popular opinion.

- Until when? asked Alym.

- Until the end of the XYRYX.

- Isn’t that so! Ryad said sarcastically, which means that….

Alym completed:

- Which means that we will find ourselves totally alone…

- …. like two idiots

The two men looked at each other and decided together:

- We are going to leave.

At this very instant the Leader of the XYRYX decided to be firm. Sternly he said:

- I will stop you.

- What if we tried to run away? said Alym

- The signals of your spaceship are scrambled.  If you turn back you will become lost in space.

- How so? Said Ryad.

- Your spaceship would wander for ever in between planets, never able to land anywhere.
They were speechless. They looked at each other. An indescribable sadness enveloped them.


Meanwhile, on Earth, the commander of Base 88 was very worried. He had been waiting for a signal from Faiza 7 and had sent messages to every space station, but with no result.

All interplanetary transmission-posts were alerted.  No information had been received on Alym and Ryad.  Finally, the astronauts’ syndicate had to take a decision. Once the standard investigations were completed, they were declared lost.

The families of the two men were informed with great tact by an assistant-psychologist from social services on the base.  On Earth, Ryad and Alym were now considered dead.