Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Mischief - Assia Djebar's first novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Escape by Ahmed Akkache - the first Algerian Prison Break

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

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

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

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

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

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