Since I went to Tunis two years ago, I became a fan of Arab-French literature again. This started as a student of French many years ago and got lost during the years… until I found the brilliant bookshop in Tunis, simply named Al Kitab. It has a diversified collection that reminds more or less the inspiration of Al Andalus: the time when cultures and religions lived next to each other and arts and science flourished. Al Kitab made me discover the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal. The first book I bought was Le serment des barbares (see a short note in this blog), and on my return to Tunis I found 2084 and Le village de l’Allemand in the shelves.
Boualem Sansal is a unique writer. When he wrote his first book Le serment des barbares, he was still working in a high position of Algerian industry. Boualem Sansal is an engineer and an economist. Since he started writing, he won many prices: many French ones, but also this German price. His books are not easy to read or light lecture. He is writing about the sharpest sides of humanity: the massive violence, cruelty, corruption, treason and dictatorship. Free thought and free speech are continuously in danger, as well as sincerity, trust and integrity. His books have a theme and an agenda. Boualem Sansal, although rather pessimist in his books, is a strong defender of enlightened mankind and for that he uses magnificent language skills.
Le serment des barbares (1999)
(The oath of the barbarians > only translated into Spanish?)
This was Boualem Sansal’s first book that brought him several prices. Boualem Sansal shows here the power and richness of his language skills in describing his country, Algeria, in decline. Thirty years after the independance of Algeria, the wounds of the fierce war they fought are still there. Factions of the army for freedom FLN, islamists and maffia-type politicians lead the country into a downward spiral of poverty and corruption while distrust shapes the day-to-day relations.
The leading story is about detective Larbi who starts the investigation of the murder of a poor guy, Abdallah. While doing so, step by step the actual way of life and the status of Rouiba, once the prosperous industrial suburb of Algiers, is revealed as if you walked there yourself. Le serment des barbares does not end well and that is a logical consequence of the story. When religious fanatism, anger, madness and greed reign, there is no hope.
Links you might want to read:
Le village de l’Allemand, ou le journal des frères Schiller (2008)
In English: The German Mujahid
I found this a very good book, I could not stop reading. It is less descriptive than the other two and the plot is impressive. Malrich Schiller lives in a banlieu in France. His brother committed suicide six months earlier and left him a journal. The book develops over the gradual lecture of the journal. There is a lot to discover. Malrich finds out that his parents who lived in a village in the south of Algeria, were killed in one of the terrible raids of GIA islamists.
His father, a German, was a hero who fought with the FLN (freedom army) against the French for independance but was killed with all the others in their village. Then he finds out that his father was a former Nazi; his brother who had to clear the house of the parents, describes in the journal how he found multiple objects and memories of that period. Their father never destroyed them but hid them in a safe corner. This comes with so much guilt and also identity problems; who was my father? who am I? And it comes with resistance and anger as islamists are already active in the banlieu and are organised to take over. And with despair about the ever repeted cruelty and the mass killings: ‘My God, why have you created mankind like this? Who can save them?’ This book is the dark history of mankind made personal – and reverse.
Links you might want to read:
2084 La fin du monde (2015)
In English: 2084 The End of the world
2084 is very descriptive. It tells about L’Abistan, a world that is stable and closed in itself. Religion is dominant in every aspect of daily life. To instaur the system, the past where this religion was not dominant has to be forgotten and free thought is seen as a major threat to the system. So there are many ways to check and control what people think and do. Every answer is given to the people. There is no reason for them to ask questions. However the book’s main character Ati got somehow ‘enlightened’ during a sick leave where he had time to think and to meet different people than usual. From that moment he is in constant danger.
I found the story of the book slow to go, too slow actually but I did continue reading because I wanted to know how it would end. Especially when Ati discovers a ghetto where life is more free, it becomes interesting. Step by step Ati finds out that l’Abistan is not the entire world as it pretends to be. And he does find his way out. I like books with a good ending and I did not persevere in vain, there is hope in the end.