Monday, 12 December 2016
Thursday, 8 December 2016
Another collective reflecting on the actions and non-actions that have created today's Algeria. Each writer is presented as a specialist of the field he or she chooses to retrace. In some cases the author is a well known specialist, in other cases, the writer simply has no more grasp of the matter at hand than any lambda citizen, and simply poses as one.
The result is disappointing and makes for a dull read. This type of "reflection with hindsight" is another example of groups with friendly links to publishing houses who blindly edit the work of groups seemingly decided upon claiming they constitute an elite. If the essays were free I wouldn't complain, but these publications are always expensive.
My review on TSA in French: « Nous autres » : l’Algérie du futur et le futur de l’Algérie ?
Really enjoyed Djamila Morani's novella. Morani is a young Algerian author who writes in Arabic.
Tufah el-Djinn is set in Baghdad during the Abbasid period. A 12-year old girl who has witnessed the assassination of her family and escapes is faced with two choices: let herself die or get better to find out why her father became such a threat and to whom.
My review on TSA in French: Tufah el-Djinn : entre le pardon et la vengeance
Aiming to demystify the Boumediene era, a collective of authors directed by Mohamed Kacimi tells their side of the story through their memories of these years as the children, teenagers or adults they once were.
My review on TSA in French: Les années Boum, souvenirs des années Boumediene
My roundup of authors and conferences not to miss during this edition of the International Book Fair of Algiers. On TSA in French: Rencontres et conférences cette semaine au SILA
Hmida Ayachi is a well-established Algerian novelist and playright who writes in Arabic. One of his masterpieces "متاهات، ليل الفتنة" was translated into French by Lotfi Nia and published by Barzakh in October 2016.
I have not yet read him in Arabic but the translation was astounding. Translator Lotfi Nia has made me discover an author who will remain one of my favourite Algerian novelist.
My review The Maze on TSA in French below and here: Dédales, la nuit de la grande discorde de Hmida Ayachi
Dédales, la nuit de la grande discorde de Hmida Ayachi
Barzakh editions are one of the strongest publishers of the market for fiction and non-fiction in French, in Algeria.
To open this year's literary season, nothing more convenient than a list of their new novel releases. My overview of their book list on TSA in French: Les nouveaux romans de la rentrée
The literary season in Algeria doesn't occur in January. Publishers begin to awaken in May and they fully flood libraries with their new releases in October, a time chosen to match with the International Book Fair of Algiers (SILA).
One of my favourite publishers are MIM. Here's a quick overview of their new novels on TSA, in French: Nouveaux romans et nouvelles voix chez les éditions MIM
Nadjet Dahmoune's short story collection published by ANEP editions is a wonderful read. These are all stories about Berber women, told by Berber women. Told as if both readers and narrators were sharing a late night tea by the fire, these women revisit their past, its beauty and many cruelties.
One to watch particularly because it has finally inserted the Berber language into an Arabic text.
My review on TSA in French here: Miroirs et réflexions : « Miraya Amazighiya » de Nadjet Dahmoune
In Algerian literature, few are the novelists who have taken for inspiration the situation of migrants crossing Algeria from the Sahel region and heading for Europe.
Ahmed Tiab is the exception with his crime fiction Le désert ou la mer (The Desert or the Sea) published in May by L'Aube editions.
My review here on TSA in French: Migrations, clandestinité et tragédies : « Le désert ou la mer »
Anyone interested in an Algerian novel that has finally moved beyond the tropes of terrorism, Islamism and love-ism should read Said Khatibi’s Kitab al-khataya.
Algerian novelist Said Khatibi’s Kitab al-khataya* (كتاب الخطايا), or The Book of Faults, is the unabashed story of a young woman who reviews her dating life with a great sense of humor and of honesty, weighing the good and the bad of her situation as a working woman, a little uncertain as to where she should be heading in life.
Set in bustling Algiers and its suburbs, thirty-something Kahina is one of the many women and men who juggle work and dating, and who attempt to find a secure anchorage somewhere in an environment that is structurally changing and crumbling at a furious pace.
In this refreshing novel, Khatibi etches tender, empathetic, and non-judgemental portraits of individuals who are simply trying to find a little space to dream.
Kitab al-khataya is Kahina’s book of errors, a sort of account-keeping that retraces the narrator’s life from the moment she realises things aren’t really going anywhere, standing in a overcrowded bus with a Tampax emergency, to when she falls pregnant — not by her fiancé.
Kahina lives with her parents in Ain Naʿdja and works as a receptionist in downtown Algiers. Like most of the people she knows, her situation affords her relative financial independence, freedom of movement, and also looks like a static dead end.
While the men in her life often add another layer of stress to her daily experiences, they soothe some of the frustration and anguish she feels about the future. If betterment won’t come from work, it may be brought on by love or, at least, by marriage. By examining the story of her dates, Kahina attempts to pinpoint where she went wrong. Falling in awe of her best friend was delicious and precious. But abortion is a loud wakeup call.
By looking outwards and observing the people around her, such as her easy-going mother, her married sisters, her friends and the random encounters she makes around the city, Kahina creates her own self-therapy and opens a window onto a fiercely radiant and contemporary Algeria.
Kahina is the narrator throughout Kitab al-khataya, but the book opens and closes with a note: a man is writing down her story. These parts echo Kahina’s last remarks toward the end of the novel, when she writes a long letter and sends it to someone who will understand and know what to do with it.
The influence of oral transmission and of an oral storytelling tradition is highly present in novels with multiple tellers. Stories like multifaceted mirrors such as The Sand Child by Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun published in 1985 are a great illustration of what we could perhaps refer to as its own genre. Several recent Algerian novels open in this manner. In Toy of Fire (دمية النار) by Bachir Mefti (2010), we learn of the protagonist’s story through a man who had met him at a party and was particularly struck by this character. Or in I Do As the Swimmer in the Sea (Je fais comme fait dans la mer le nageur) by Sadek Aissat (2004), a friend of the protagonist acts as his pen.
As for contemporary novels written by male authors who borrow the voice of a woman to weave a story, there are so many both in Arabic and in French that they might just show the tip of a trend seeking to extend Kateb Yacine’s classic novel Nedjma — in which Nedjma, the central character of the novel is silent — and to reconnect with the ancient cycle of El-Djazia.
Said Khatibi is a novelist and a journalist who writes both in Arabic and French. His latest novel أربعون عاما في إنتظار إيزابيل (Forty Years Waiting for Isabelle [Eberhardt]), came out this summer both in Algeria (El-Ikhtilef) and Lebanon (Difaf).
Kitab al-khataya (كتاب الخطايا) was published by ANEP editions in 2013.
*I choose to refer in English to this novel as The Book of Faults. Strictly speaking Khataya “خطايا” should be translated as “sins” (faults as in ‘errors’ would correspond to أخطاء) but I would like to get away from religious references and tags, especially as the story is not moralistic nor religion-focused. That is how I understood the story. Others will read it differently. Nonetheless, I’ll stick to the word “faults” because it is a synonym of “sins” in English, and because I read somewhere something that more or less said “confession of sins are made to God not to men, faults are confessed to one another.” But I am no Arabic/English translator so don’t quote me. “Wrongs” or “wrongdoings” as suggested by others might be a good option too. The author will be best placed to choose.
Review initially published on my favourite literature website: Arabic Literature in English (translation)