Sunday, December 24, 2006

Yasmina Khadra's images of corruption

Commentators have noticed less than complimentary remarks about women in Yasmina Khadra's novels about Algiers police superintendent Brahim Llob. Take this selection, from the first page of Morituri:

Today my wife, my poor beast of burden, has regressed -- she holds no more attraction than a trailer lying across the road, but at least she's there when I am afraid of the dark.

What saves Khadra from censure for such remarks? For one thing, perhaps, Khadra himself was thought for years to be a woman. "Yasmina Khadra" is a nom de plume borrowed from two of his wife's names. Khadra's real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul; he took the alias when the Algerian army, in which he was an officer, demanded that he submit his work to military censors. (He revealed his identity only in 2001, after he had fled to France; Morituri was published in 1997.)

For another, that passage is full of pathetic, desperate tenderness. For yet another, the remark is in no way gratuitous. Disgust with the flesh is only part of the larger atmosphere of disenchantment that pervades Llob's world. The terror, the fear, the disillusionment, the political and moral corruption are so pervasive that they invade the most intimate aspects of the characters' lives. Poor Brahim Llob is alienated from even the most basic desires.

So, what saves the Llob stories from being total downers? The narrator/protagonist's grim sense of humor even among the direst circumstances. Here's Llob with Sid Lankabout ("Sid Spider"), one of the cast of vicious, slimy opportunists who populate the Llob books:

It seems (says Lankabout) that you are in the process of giving birth to a third tome.

This time (replies Llob) I'm writing about anti-matter.

Interesting. I didn't know you were an alchemist. Does anti-matter really exist?

Fundamentalism is its most active manifestation.
The defining rivalry of Llob's Algiers is that between corrupt, murderous Islamic fundamentalists and corrupt, monumentally rotten and venal government. Llob's disgust with the hypocrisy of both sides (and with the megalomania of the third side that reveals itself toward the ends of Morituri and of the second in the series, Double Blank) is characteristic of his appalling world. It also makes him an appealing crime-fiction protagonist.

© Peter Rozovsky 2006

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

happy new year, Peter !

I suppose that "desesperate tenderness" is quite the right answer, regarding my own experience with an algerian-born and muslim husband.
la pudeur (I don't know the word in english) is the basis to understand, first...

I read les hirondelles de Kaboul (Kabul's swallows) during my holidays. As usual, terrible and great... but... I start to be tired of the "desesperation" and the dark !

January 02, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, then you need some lighter reading. I read the first scene of The Swallows of Kabul on the Amazon Web site -- a terrible opening scene. At least the novels about Brahhim Llob have bits of humor to relieve the fear and the terror.

My dictionary defines pudeur as declicacy or prudishness. I'm not sure that describes Brahim Llob's feelings with regard to his wife. Indeed, the opening of Morituri reveals that he was the opposite of a prude: "Elle est loin, l'epoque ou je me l'envoyais au detour du plus innocent des attouchements. C'etait le temps ou j'avais l'orgasme a fleur de peau; le temps ou je ne pouvais dissocier la fierte de la virilite, le positivisme de la procreation."

And happy new year to you, too!

January 02, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Peter,

I suppose there is two possibilities of understanding the last sentence you wrote in french : maybe it is more an "allégorie" than a real fact. And above all, one more demonstration of the Khadra's humor with a lot of autoderision (?).
I wrote my own point of view concerning the "swallows of kabul".

January 03, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oui, Brahim Llon est quelquefois la cible de son propre humeur.

Quoique il exprime un degout pour sa femme, il a besoin de la tendresse.

January 03, 2007  

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