Monday, April 22, 2013

“Algérie montait à la tête”

Charles de Gaulle in Aïn Témouchent,
Algeria, December 1960
  Sorry, folks, but, as Alistair Horne remarks several times in A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962, “Algérie montait à la tête” — Algeria went to one's head (or, one might say, got under one's skin), and it's gone to mine. I'm not sure I'll visit any time soon (though Morocco or a return trip to Tunisia are not out of the question), but I bought a biography of Charles de Gaulle today and also Algerian White, by Assia Djebar.

Here are some of the small and large delights and surprises of Horne's book for me, who had known little about Algeria, particularly about that savage period in its history:
  • Almost seven years into the bloody Algerian war, crowds of Muslims shouting: “Algérie algérienne… Vive de Gaulle!” in Aïn Témouchent — and the event that precipitated the deminstration: de Gaulle's astonishing reference in a 1960 speech to “an Algerian Republic, which will one day exist."
  • That same year, as plots against de Gaulle's life by disaffected members of the military and pieds noirs mount by the minute, “A handsome young pied noir playboy, tired of life, decided to ram de Gaulle’s helicopter with his private plane.” He didn't do it because he couldn't figure out which helicopter was de Gaulle's.
  • Horne's quotations from Frantz Fanon, known previously to me only as the apologist for revolutionary violence, the author of The Wretched of the Earth, and the revolutionary whose éclat was second only to Che Guevara's, on women's roles the Algerian uprisings.The mentions are brief, but the effects of women taking active roles where they had never done before must have been even more cataclysmic in Algeria's traditional Arab and Kabyle cultures than was the influx of women into the workforce in America during World War II.
I should note, too, that Assia Djebar, mentioned above, who is still around today, writes both in French and under an alias (she took the nom de plume because she feared her father's disapproval, her Wikipedia biography says.) Algerian White, according to a blurb, "weaves a tapestry of the epic and bloody ongoing struggle in her country between Islamic fundamentalism and the post-colonial civil society," which makes her seem like a woman worth reading.

It also sounds a bit like Yasmina Khadra, who writes in French under an assumed name and who criticizes both the state of Algeria and what he sees as Western misunderstanding of the Islamic world. Sounds to me like Algeria is one pretty interesting country, though I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable visiting these days.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Blogger Cary Watson said...

If you're interested in another great novel about Algeria check out The Star of Algiers by Aziz Chouaki. It's set on the eve of the recent civil war and it's about a young nightclub singer who becomes radicalized.

April 22, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks; I'll have a look, and I'll also look for the name in Horne's index.

In a way, I'm interested in the surprising stories: de Gaulle's incredible chutzpah, the scenes of of Muslims cheering him, or such passing facts as that one of the leading officers in the anti-de Gaulle agitation toward the 1961 putsch was also one of the fiercest critics of torture.

April 22, 2013  
Blogger nonie said...

Algeria is a difficult topic that generates strong emotions. I love both writers, Assia Djebar and Mohammed Moulessehoul writing as Khadra. Their style is very different to me. I would recommend Les femmes d'Alger dans leur apartment by Djebar and Khadra's early noir novels too.

April 22, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment and the recommendation. I think the next book I'll look for is Mouloud Feraoun's journals of the war.

I read Khadra/Moulessehoul's noir novels before I read any of his other work. He is dismissive of those books, but they have much to say about Algeria in the 1990s, including about the hostility against his own writing.

April 22, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nonie: I have begun reading Algerie Blanc. Since I had just read A Savage War of Piece: 1954-1962, I turned first to the sections about the Algerian War. My first thoughts are that Assia Djebar, and that she and Alistair Horne have oddly different views of Ramdane Abane.

April 23, 2013  
Blogger nonie said...

I haven't yet read Algérie blanc (TBR ). I loved Vaste est la prison published the year previously though. It is a beautiful and challenging read. I think there as many takes on Algeria as there are French and Algerians. There is a wonderful video exhibition at Le Musée de l'immigration on the site of the 1930s Colonial Exhibition in Paris on the Harkis, the French identified Algerians in the conflict, and their difficulties in France after the war.

April 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I would not mind seeing that exhibit. I know that harkis are still a sensitive issue in France, as the world learned with Zidane's infamous head butt in the 2006 World Cup. (I think the consensus now it that Materazzi insulted Zidane's mother and sister. At the time, there was speculation that he had called Zidane a harki. That was the first time I remember hearing the word.)

A Savage War of Peace (I just noticed the embarrassing typo in my previous comment-- a bad error for a sous-rédacteur to make.) ends before the postwar period, though the author does note that harkis faced terrible times after the war.

I think there as many takes on Algeria as there are French and Algerians.

I think Assia Djebar is harder on Houari Boumedienne than some other writers might be. I wonder if women writing about the war have less sympathy for the military than man do or whether she was just disillusioned by the what Algeria became after it won its independence.

And Mouloud Feraoun's war journals are on the way to me by mail, so I will soon find even more opinions on this sad and fascinating subject. I see from Algerie Blanc that Assia Djebar admired Feraoun greatly.

April 23, 2013  
Blogger Jason Groessel said...

I'm reading A Savage War of Peace now, can anyone recommend reads on the post-war era?

December 14, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No histories come to mind, but you might try the Brahim Llob crime novels, by Yasmina Khadra.

December 15, 2015  

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