Thursday, 29 December 2016

Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi


Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside.

This #crimenovel is set in France in Giverny, the village in which Claude Monet painted until his last. The crime is linked to this part of the village's history & it was the main reason why I picked it up. 
But! O' the disappointment... I can't remember when I read a #detective fiction driven by what I'd qualify as the most idiotic and cowardly inspector there is in the history of my reading, and the novel is not even a comedy.
The story can be divided into 3 parts:
1- a very good, somewhat gripping first half if you excuse the caricatural charmer & thoroughly lazy main character, Inspector Sérénac.
2- an abysmally constructed and nonsensical turn into the events that will lead to the resolution of the mystery.
3- the truth revealed which is actually very good but has nothing to do with the first half.

It's not easy to play with time lines in a story, to go back & forth in time, and be there-and-not at the same time. This is why this novel ended up such a mess, this is a case of "Inception" gone wrong.

I am ranting but I did enjoy the first half, I wish someone would pick it & write the end, and that someone else would write the beginning of that very interesting last part. Two novels in one, none completed.

Monday, 12 December 2016

"Bled" by Tierno Monenembo

"Bled", le nouveau roman de l'écrivain Tierno Monénembo est paru en octobre aux éditions Seuil.
Tierno Monénembo, né en Guinée en 1947, a enseigné en Algérie de 1979 à 1983 et c'est au bled que son imaginaire le ramène, et nous invite dans cette nouvelle fiction située dans les années 80, narrée par une femme, Zoubida.
Le roman s'ouvre sur une jeune fille de Aïn Guesma qui s'enfuit pour échapper à une foule qui veut la lyncher. Son crime ? Etre tombée enceinte hors mariage et avoir gardé l'enfant. Un enfant illégitime chez les Mesbahi, « le troisième en mille ans. »
Zoubida sait ce qu'elle risque en partant seule, sans parents et sans argent. Peu importe le cout, elle veut garder son enfant.
Des années après les événements qui vont suivre sa fuite faite d'auto-stops, de voyages clandestins en bus, à dos d'âne et en voiture volée, et ses nombreux périples, comme avoir été retenue prisonnière dans la maison close tenue par Mounir, c'est à Alfred qu'elle adresse maintenant ses pensées.
Alfred Bamikilé, futur enseignant d'éducation physique à Aïn Guesma, un homme doux et plein d'humour venu du Cameroun, devenu ami de son père, était loin de se douter qu'en échouant presque mourant en plein hiver sur les terres de papa Hassan et maman Asma, il allait mettre en marche les roues d'un destin que Zoubida était loin d'envisager.
C'est par le biais d'Alfred que Zoubida va rencontrer Loïc, son amant qu'elle décrit comme étant marqué par la poisse propre à Aïn Guesma.
Au fil des épreuves, c'est la prison et un grand amour qui libéreront la narratrice car « l'univers est une chambre de prison, c'est le livre qui en détient la clé ».
Bled n'est pas une tragédie, bien que les faits et le vécu de la narratrice et celui des nombreux personnages qu'elle va rencontrer, hommes et femmes confondus, aurait pu faire glisser une grande partie de ce roman dans cette catégorie.
Bled, raconté avec recul et sans amertume, est construit sur une conviction fondamentale, celle qu'un bout de vie est une forme d'espoir étincelante et dont on peut tous s'inspirer.
A travers ce Bled', Monénembo explore des géographies renversées. Le corps est un lieu, les territoires ne sont que des espaces de transits. Quant à l'Algérie, elle est « un boubou d'épines. Tu le portes, il te pique, tu l'enlèves, tu es nu. »
"Bled" de Tierno Monénembo, éditions Seuil, octobre 2016, pp. 199.
NB: Mes remerciements aux éditions Seuil pour la copie presse de ce roman.
Article initially published on HuffPost Algerie

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

"The Gap of Time" is Jeanette Winterson's readaptation of Shakespeare's "The Winter's tale", published by Penguin Random House (2016)

Winterson has brought this classic tale to 21st century America in a small town called New Bohemia 😋

Leo, founder of the billion-dollar worth Silicia company, is completely losing his mind convincing himself that his pregnant wife MiMi is having an affair with his best friend Xeno.

Maddened by his failure to kill Xeno, Leo decides to kidnap his new-born baby girl whom he believes is not his. He convinces Tony Gonzales, his well-meaning & naïve gardener, to deliver the baby to Xeno with $50,000, jewels & a song titled "Perdita", to make his point.

But Xeno is not home having fled from fear, and Gonzales is spotted by a couple of thugs who know about the cash & shoot him dead to get it.

What will become of Perdita?

Well, we kind of know the end don't we, but the modern setting & new cloak crafted to reweave this tale of madness, revenge, heartbreak & love, are vibrant and exciting.

It makes me want to reread Shakespeare all over again which surely is also the point of readapting his work to celebrate Shakespeare 400th birthday, to keep his plays alive, and show the timelessness of his genius.

Transit by Rachel Cusk

Rachel Cusk continues to hypnotise me with the angle through which she sees & hears the world 😍 "Transit" is the place in which the narrator finds herself after her divorce. She is now moving back to London with her two sons. The house she buys is completely run down and she is having it overhauled. A metaphor for a broken marriage and the necessary steps that must be taken to rebuild a life.

Now back in the neighbourhood she once knew well, she takes us through her encounters, and lets us glimpse, ever so slightly, into the reasons for her separation.

In "Transit" as before in "Outline", Cusk's narrator engages with the characters she meets exclusively through conversations. The narrator herself rarely speaks but instead lets the characters she meets speak through her, as she hears and listens to them.

The manner in which these conversations are retold, not through direct speech but through the narrator's mind and through remodelling the rules of punctuation, make for a fascinating insight into how we relate to others and their words, and how much it reveals of ourselves. 

Cusk's previous novel Outline had a gentle movement that led the reader from one page to the next. In Transit, although each of the discussions her characters have is thoroughly thought-provoking and deliciously poetic, the lack of movement outside of each conversation was a little frustrating, especially for a place that a transit represents as the novel itself reveals: a place where the planets are shifting, a place as bustling as a London tube station.

All the same, am looking forward to reading more of Cusk's poetic prose.

"Transit" by Rachel Cusk, published by Jonathan Cape, 2016.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

"The Power" by Naomi Alderman

Just finished "The Power" by Naomi Alderman published by Penguin Random House (2016).

Am left dazzled with a dreamy smile pondering on what I'd try to achieve or control if electricity ran through my spine.

In this fantasy-supernatural story, Alderman has imagined the transition between a world ruled by men to a world ruled by women.

What would change & what would remain the same? Are the motivations to rule fundamentally gender-based or do all leaders share the same characteristic: madness? 😯

"The Power" is deliciously entertaining, and its double position as a fictional historical novel makes for an extra treat.

I enjoyed Alderman's descriptive narrative style, but my favourite novels are those that gently peel off the surface to reveal a depth both unknown yet familiar, and play with the language. 

And that's exactly what I know I'll find in the novel I've been so looking forward to reading next ❤ "Transit" by Rachel Cusk published by Jonathan Cape ❤

"Nushell" by Ian McEwan

I could not put down Ian McEwan's latest novel "Nutshell" published by Jonathan Cape (2016).

"Nutshell" is a thoroughly novel-way to tell a tale and to build a crime fiction: the narrator and main witness is the unborn child of a murderess. 

Listening in from the womb, this not-yet-infant will try to prevent the awful act that his mother and her lover are planning. 

"Nutshell" is a reflection on the primordial link between the womb & the world, between empathy & desire, between birth & rebirth. And love.

McEwan's style is like a feather's caress, so insightful and otherwordly. A similar style to Rachel Cusk whose work I - for lack of a better verb - adore.

Side note: wine lovers & poets will love this novel and its many literary and oenology references.

We the others: Algeria's future and the future of Algeria

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 ?

The Devil's apple: a novel that explores forgiveness and vengeance

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 

The Boumediene years - essays and short stories by a collective of authors

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

Round up of book signings and conferences at the SILA

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

The Maze: the night of the great discord by Hmida Ayachi

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
Au mois d’octobre, le deuxième roman de Hmida Ayachi متاهات، ليل الفتنة  a resurgi sur la scène littéraire grâce au traducteur Lotfi Nia. Matahat est maintenant publié en traduction sous le titre « Dédales – la nuit de la grande discorde » (Barzakh 2016).
Cette traduction permet de redécouvrir l’une des œuvres majeures de Hmida Ayachi, dont l’original était publié en 2000, et de renouer avec la théâtralité des textes de cet auteur.
Hmida Ayachi est romancier, essayiste et dramaturge et « Dédales » est un très bel exemple de l’agilité et de la créativité de Ayachi, un roman dans lequel l’auteur a allié écriture narrative et dramatique.
Le terme ‘personnage’ désignait le masque de l’acteur dans l’antiquité, ce glissement de sens sied tout particulièrement à « Dédales » dans lequel théâtre et roman en tant que genres sont étroitement liés, chacun empruntant à l’autre. Et ce sont plusieurs masques que Ayachi va façonner autour de Hmidou, le personnage qui va rentrer le premier dans cette « nuit de la grande discorde ».
C’est en allant visiter une parente que le père de Hmidou se retrouve témoin de la fureur qu’Abou Yazid et ses hommes vont déchaîner sur les habitants de Makedra, un petit village près de Sidi Bel Abbes, et du massacre qu’ils vont y perpétrer. Alors que le groupe s’approche, tous reconnaissent Abou Yazid à sa tête, l’un des leurs qu’ils ont meurtrit et maudit lorsqu’il était enfant. Aujourd’hui, il est à la tête de « deux cents éléments armés de la phalange d’El-Khadra », et il est revenu pour abreuver sa vengeance.
Hmidou décide de partir pour Makedra pour voir son père. Les horreurs et le sang versé lui remémorent l’histoire de sa famille et celle des membres de ce village, avant et après l’arrivée du nouvel imam et des hommes comme Mohamed Haroun lorsque « Sidi Bel Abbes et d’autres régions d’Algérie furent secouées par un grondement jusqu’alors inconnu ».
Après avoir revu sa famille et les fantômes de son passé, Hmidou revient à Alger pour continuer à travailler sur ses reportages avec Omar, Ali Khodja et Hmida, l’alter ego de l’auteur. Suite à leur rencontre avec le ‘Général à la retraite’, les événements se précipitent. Le dédale va se refermer pendant la visite d’Alexandra qui s’apprête à revenir à Alger pour un reportage. H’mida a un pressentiment, s’il sait interpréter son cauchemar, il sauvera sa vie.
La violence et tous les fléaux qu’elle va engendrer vont peu à peu détruire les frontières qui séparent cauchemars, illusions et quotidien. L’Histoire devient l’histoire pour Hmidou lorsqu’il découvre un personnage historique, un autre Abou Yazid, Abou Yazid al-Nikari lui aussi renégat et assoiffé de sang. Ses premières rencontres, jeune, avec Warda maintenant son épouse, se transforment en poème, et la vie qu’il partage avec elle, en prophétie.
Cette réalité brouillée, ce tiraillement permanent entre hantise et a-normalité, va engloutir tous ceux pour qui le temps va se figer pendant une décade. Omar, photographe, se revoit enfant avec son frère Rachid, parti en Afghanistan et passé pour mort jusqu’à son court retour. Ali Khodja, de mère égyptienne, contemple comment après avoir traversé les géographies, de l’Égypte à l’Algérie, il est arrivé au même point de violence. H’mida qui a « l’impression d’ouvrir les yeux dans le noir le plus complet » lui s’accroche à ses souvenirs de Aïcha pour ne pas sombrer. Kamel Mansour, qui s’est échappé de la prison de Lambèse avec une centaine d’autres, essaie de se remémorer qui il était avant la prison car son « cœur a cessé de battre, mon cœur ne bat plus ».
Ayachi construit cinq architectures et cheminements dans « Dédales », cinq scènes, nocturnes, dans le labyrinthe que ces années vont ciselées : le dédale du malheur, de la blessure, de la poussière, le dédale du dédale et celui des cauchemars.
C’est en jouant avec les modes d’énonciations et les effets visuels portés par la typographie du texte que Ayachi fait entrer le théâtre dans son roman, entre récits et dialogues, cauchemars et observations, narrations et déclarations.
Les effets de typographie comme les juxtapositions de langue arabe et langue française, créent une narration dynamique, émouvante, et un effet de lumière sur et dans le texte. Les calligrammes qui s’entre-lient comme les tatouages des femmes de Makedra, transmettent aussi le rythme des fqirat et autres chants mystiques des habitants de ce roman. Ces effets visuels, présents dans l’original, ont été respectés et soignés dans le texte traduit et son édition.
Peu sont les romans sur les années 90s qui ont su se réapproprier une identité littéraire au-delà du traumatisme. « Dédales » est l’un d’eux. Ayachi a non seulement créé à partir d’une destruction, il a renouvelé son art pour le et se redéfinir.
En dépassant les frontières du roman et de la représentation théâtrale dans « Dédales », Ayachi a construit une œuvre nouvelle, hybride, mouvante, et a introduit le « théâtre de la cruauté » dans le corpus littéraire algérien.
« Dédales, la nuit de la grande discorde » de Hmida Ayachi traduit de l’arabe vers le français par Lotfi Nia, Barzakh, octobre 2016, pp. 266.

New novels by Barzakh publishers

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

New novels published by MIM editions

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

Mirrors and reflexions: Miraya Amazighiya by Nadjet Dahmoune

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

Migration, clandestinity and tragedies: The Desert or the Sea by Ahmed Tiab

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 »

Sins and Faults: A New Algerian Novel Beyond Terrorism, Islamism, and Love-ism

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)

The World is My Language by Alain Mabanckou

Really enjoyed reading Alain Mabanckou's new essay Le Monde est mon langage (The World is My Language), a magistral literature lesson on novels written in French from novelists born and raised outside of France. 

My review here in French on TSA: Lecture: « Le monde est mon langage »