Saturday, 14 January 2012

Algerian novelists (1)

Once again the ‘One is never better served than by oneself’ axiom is proving entirely false as far as my experience is concerned. One is much better served by others, or at the very least much better helped - not meaning to sound royal. Thanks to Twitter this time round.

I set out about six months ago to exclusively read literature written by Algerian writers (I use the term literature loosely). I wanted to see if there was a distinctive feature or thread in ‘Algerian novels’, a particular Algerian experience encrypted in the numerous works of those born and raised on that land. Or is literature in essence ‘universal’, drawn from a common source of knowledge and experience - you know the one high up there, limitless, mighty, impalpable and damn repetitive - similar in expression and theme for every place and every people.

It turns out that this exclusive-reading is proving rather painful - I don’t recommend it - and I have taken a break several times to clear my head by reading others (I tried to do so by reading literature from Egypt and the Levant but it made things worse…). But on the whole it has been and continues to be a very interesting exercise. While we (Algerians) still await open debates and accurate records on modern Algerian history, rest assured that a large amount of this information, memory and experience is safely kept and guarded in ‘fiction’.

So I tweeted HELP to get recommendations for Algerian contemporary writers, whether they write in Arabic, French and ‘Berber’ (Algerians are polyglots) and these are the names and links to novelists that popped up in my Time Line:

From: @iChaib (Waciny Laaredj, Ahlem Mostaghanemi, Mihoubi, Amine Zaoui), @FeveDeCacao (Ahlem Mostaghanemi), @taharhani (Amine Zaoui , Waciny Al-Aredj, Tahar Ouattar), @djenad (Tahar Outtar, Boudjadra, Abdelhamid Benhadouga), @BentAljazair (Bahia Kiared, Hamid Grine and links to Algerian lit magazines with an online presence @LivreEscQ and @qarato), with @LyesDAH, @LaSoussaDZ and @7our joining in.

Mysterious @Haroun46 tweeted these excellent links to articles and interviews: an article on the Algerian political novel composed in Arabic HERE (in French), one on the Algerian novel composed in Arabic HERE (in French), and a very good presentation and list of Algerian Women writers HERE (in French). Very useful thank you Haroun.

From @arablit : Ahlem Mostaghanemi, Bashir Mufti, Waciny Laredj, Samir Qasimi and a link to Actes Sud.

Also, @jam_mag kindly winked at @VinyCulture and they are preparing a list of contemporary Algerian writers I am told.

Based on the recommendations, you can see who made it in the annals! Thanks to all the Tweeps who answered :-)

So far the writers I have read are those of ‘worldwide’ fame or the national classics. The contemporary ones are all in their 60s (plus). This (old) age business does strike me as significant.

The famous contemporary novelists are Assia Djebbar (wonder of wonders), Waciny Laredj (not yet read), Rachid Boudjedra (brilliant), Amine Zaoui (edgy sense of humour), the excruciating Yasmina Khadra, Anouar Benmalek (great story teller), Ahlem Mostaghanemi (whose work I dislike, but in fairness I have read her in translation only).

I have not yet read those recommended by @bentAljazair nor @arablit (I can’t actually find the books for Qasimi and Mufti).

The must-read oldies and my beloveds are Mouloud Feraoun, Tahar Djaout, Mohammed Dib, Tahar Ouattar, the poets Youcef Sebti, Jean Amrouche and Si Mu’hand. I have to confess that I was not transported by any sort of transcendental experience by Kateb Yacine’s prose though (sorry). Of note there is writer Fadela M’Rabet, not often spoken of and not quite writing fiction, but I enjoyed her Alger, un theatre de revenants.

Incidentally, there are some ace story-blogger-writers out there, check out Jeune Vie Algeroise and DZ-Chick (thanks to @T_Zano for letting me know about this blog).

The youngest writers I’ve managed to find so far are Amara Lakhous, based in Italy, Leila Marouane based in France and Biara Kiared (based in Canada perhaps). As for poets there is the beautiful Hanin Omar, winner of the first edition of the Prince of Poets competition. That’s the generation below 45!

What I would like to find out now is: who are the well-known contemporary writers under 40, published (or not yet published) in Algeria. Because I do believe that they exist and that they have brilliant minds, I do, I really do!

Maybe you can help me out.

PS: This post was written on the occasion of #DZBlogday under the theme 'Agir pour l'Algerie'. Alors agissons.


For the writers I have read (well almost), by birth date (obviously, there are many many more Algerian writers than contained herein):

The young’uns:

-Samir Qasimi (1974-) (Loss Permit and A Great Day to Die (Youm Ra’ih lilmout, 2009) Profile on IFPAF .
-Amara Lakhous (1970-) - is based in Rome and just published Clash of Civilisation Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio. I advise you to cruise around his website for more info.
-Bahia Kiared I have no birth year for her but you can look her up here. There's also her Facebook page and her book’s facebook page with links to other Algerian authors based in Canada.
-Leila Marouane (1960-) - author of 6 novels already (possibly not a good thing but I've only read one).

Born in the 1950s:

Writing in Arabic
-Amine Zaoui (1956-) - formerly in charge of the National Library in Algiers, writes in Arabic and in French.
-Waciny Al-Aredj (1954-)
-Hamid Grine (1954-) - journalist and novelist, writes in Arabic and in French.
-Azzedine Mihoubi (I couldn’t find a date of birth for him, but as he is the former Secretary of State now Director of the Bibliothèque Nationale d’Algérie, I’d say in his 60s) - he published a poetry collection el-Rouba'iat translated in French by a certain Mr Djillali Attatfa, available as Quatrains, published by Hibr, in 2010 which I’ve found online on PDF! Do have a read.
-Bashir Mufti (I have no birth date for him but I’d say same generation as Hamid Grine) - see a Q&A with Mufti here.

Writing in French

-Anouar Benmalek (1956-)
-Amine Zaoui (1956-) - formerly in charge of the National Library in Algiers, writes in Arabic and in French.
-Yasmina Khadra (1955-) - much a fuss about nothing as far as I'm concerned. He writes really good polards (his first three books) and his 2010 novel L'Olympe des infortunes is excellent, the rest you can bin. However, if you like repetition, clichés, platitudes and skeletal plots, pick the other works, he’s scribbled quite a bit.
-Tahar Djaout (1954-1993) - poetic prose all the way.

Born in the 1940s:

Writing in Arabic

-Ahlem Mostaghanemi (doesn’t give her date of birth but given that very fact I’d say born in the 40s, same generation as Djebbar possibly).
-Merzac Bagtache (1945-) - see a Q&A with Bagtache here [NOT YET READ]

Writing in French

-Boualem Sansal (1949-)
-Rachid Mimouni (1945-1995)
-Fatima Gallaire, playright (1944-)
-Youcef Sebti (1943-1993) - poet.
-Rachid Boudjedra (1941-).

Born in the 30s:

Writing in Arabic

-Tahar Wattar (1936-2010).

Writing in French

-Malek Alloula (1937-) - lately published Paysages d’un retour (photo-roman), photographs by Pierre Clauss, Actes Sud, 2010 (his brother was the well-known playright Abdelkader Alloula 1939-1994). [NOT YET READ]
-Assia Djebar (1936-).
-Fadela M’Rabet (1936-).
-Colette Anna Melki (1931-1966) - I have not been able to get my hands on her work apart from the excerpts floating around the net.

The Goldies and classics

-Si Muhand U M'hand (1848-1905). [in Kabyle]
-Jean Amrouche (1906-1962) and Taos Amrouche (1913-1976) - you can find out a lot about both Jean and Taos from the blog of journalist Hocine Lamriben. [Jean wrote in French, Taos wrote in French and composed her songs in Kabyle].
-Zekri Cheikh (Moufdi Zakaria) (1908-1977) – poet, author of Qassaman. [in Arabic]
-Ahmed Rida Houhou (1911-1956) - the first Algerian novelist (published in 1947). [in Arabic] [NOT YET READ]
-Mouloud Feraoun (1913-1962) - a dear dear favourite of mine. [in French]
-Mouloud Mammeri (1917-1989). [in French]
-Mohammed Dib (1920-2003) - author of the awesome trilogy. Perhaps the only Algerian author to have written a trilogy? [in French]
-Abdelhamid Benhedouga (1925-1996) - considered to have written the first true Algerian novel: Le vent du sud (Rih el Djanoub)) [in Arabic] [NOT YET READ]
-Jean Senac (1926–1962) - Poet [in French]
-Malek Haddad (1927-1978) - poet and novelist). [in French] [NOT YET READ]
-Kateb Yacine (1929-1989) - super star. [in French]

(I am not including Albert Camus here ok! - oh, and nor am I including Mohamed Benchicou!)

Algerian literature prizes

- Prix des libraires algériens (an article in Le Matin says that it is no longer getting funds so pretty
much dead here).
- Prix Mohamed Dib
- Prix Rachid Mimouni
- Prix du meilleur roman en langue française (bien sur! *read irony*)


Anonymous said...


Nice list. Glad you didn't include Albert Camus although you mentioned him :)
Hanin Omar is indeed great. And Malek Haddad is a must-read in my opinion.

Amine Zaoui was fired from his position in the National Library a few years ago. He had disagreements with minister khalida toumi and ... she won obviously. She fired him right after he had invited Adonis to make a conference in Algeria...

Mihoubi was born in 1959.

Houhou is the first Algerian novelist WRITING IN ARABIC. Love his work.

I've read a few more authors. Here are some names, not all are young though:

Salim Bachi, I don't like.
Youcef Zirem, I don't like either :)

Now those I find ok or like:
Amel Bachiri,
Rabia Djalti
Fadhila Farouk,
Samira Kabli,
Lila Ait-Larbi,
Zhour ounissi,
Fatema Bakhai,
Noureddine Saoudi,
Boualem Bessaih,
Khelifa Benamara.

I gave more females names on purpose ;)


Nadia Ghanem said...

Thanks MnarviDZ :-) Amine Zaoui's ref duly amended! Greeaat, list is expanding hurray!

DZ-Chick said...

Nadia, a great post well done.
I had no idea about 90% of these authors you mention, great research, again well done

And of course thx for the mention here and in other places ;)
Bonne continuation