Friday, May 10, 2013

Algeria is to France and Vietnam to the U.S. as ? is to ?

I'd decided to let Algeria lie for a while until a pair of passages in Fred Vargas' The Ghost Riders of Ordebec made me realize Algeria must have penetrated the French consciousness and conscience the way Vietnam did in the United States.

The character in question (dead by the time the novel begins and invoked for his abominable conduct in the community and toward his family) is said to have had a bullet lodged in his head from the Algerian War, and to have been

"taken off active service and they put him into interrogations. Torturing people." 
Revelations of torture during the war shocked the French public, and the matter still comes up in occasional legal cases.  That Vargas could invoke torture and Algeria in a novel published in 2011 (English translation, 2013) suggests at least some in France are still haunted by the subject, and the character in Vargas' book said to have engaged in torture suggests that Vargas regards torture as the materialization of the worst that France has ever done and torturers as the real-life embodiment of the evil spirit always hinted at in her books.

If Algeria is France's conscience and its nightmare, if Vietnam played a similar role for the United States, what are their counterparts for other countries? And have those counterparts appeared in crime fiction?
*
(Read the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Fred Vargas.)
 
© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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14 Comments:

Blogger Duke 81 said...

USSR/Afghanistan, Belgium/Congo, Great Britain/Ireland and Italy/Ethiopia (Abyssinia) come to mind

May 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes on all four. Irish crime writers only know starting to write about the troubles will tell you there has been much reluctance in the UK to addressing the Troubles. I wonder if the same holds true for those other colonial/imperial involvements.

May 11, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I find your "relationship" premise interesting, I can't see that the basis is accurate. Algeria was a part of France, Vietnam was never a part of the US. Living both in France and the US, I can't see that Vietnam has penetrated the American consciousness and conscience nearly as deeply as Algeria has penetrated the same of France.

Italy/Ethiopia yes, but Libya shows up as a comparison more often in Italian literature.

May 11, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter


The Ethiopian campaign in WW2 is really one of the most interesting stories of the war and almost entirely unknown. Orde Wingate operated a very effective guerilla force that brought the Italians to their knees and then marched in triumph with the Emperor as he reentered Abyssinia.

May 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Algeria was a part of France"

Well, that's the crux of the matter, isn't it, and probably accounts for why Algeria's split from France was so much bloodier than were Tunisia's and Morocco's. I would guess that Vietnam percolated into American consciousness and popular culture as deeply as Algeria into France's, but that the impact has begun to fade. Algeria, on the other hand, remains to the fore both because of events there and in France.

I have seen repeated references and allusions to Algeria in French crime writing, not just in political crime writers like Didier Daeninckx and Dominique Manotti, but also in Vargas. References to North Africa crop up in Italian crime writing, too, but I've never seen a reference to Ethiopia in a recent Italian crime story. The country is probably too remote in time and space.

May 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian: Orde Wingate's name had come down to me through Palestine. I didn't know he was such a pro-Zionist anti-colonialist guerrilla, though. I also don't remember his name coming up in Ryszard Kapuściński's book about Haile Selassie, though that was about the emperor's last days.

May 11, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not wanting to split hairs, but . . Since the Vietnam war is more recent than the Algerian conflict and Vietnam's impact is already fading in the US while that of Algeria's in France is not, I question the equality of the depths of penetration. As a comparison to Algeria/France I would only suggest Ireland/England.

I, too, don't find much on Ethiopia but Italians do write about Libya and Tunisia. After all, gorgeous Claudia Cardinale is a Sicilian from Tunis.

May 11, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps, this is another topic but just to add . . Italy has never done much of a job of facing war crimes it committed. Angelo del Bocca writes at length about this topic. One excellent book is "Italiani, brava gente?"

I asked an Italian friend about why Italy always seemed to "get off" easily. He said, "We always kill the emperor and beg for mercy"

May 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anonymous, if you state the argument that way, yes, Algeria had penetrated more deeply into the French consciousness. For a while, though, the messed-up Vietnam veteran was a staple in American books and movies. I've been reading much Algerian and North African history, and Alistair Horne in particular often invokes Northern Ireland as a parallel with Algeria.

I did not know Claudia Cardinale was a Sicilian from Tunis but, looking back on her stunning appearance in Big Deal on Madonna Street, I am not surprised.

May 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anonymous: In re killing the emperor and begging for mercy, maybe Italy has the luck to fight alongside villains worse than they.

That book certainly has a scary cover. Interesting that the worst abuses the book cites happened in countries where, as far as I know, Italian is no longer spoken. That probably contributes to the isolation of the abuses from public consciousness.

In re Libya, I read somewhere that there were seven university graduates in the country at its independence. Italians, that is, may not have done much that would perpetuate their culture after their departure. In Algeria, on the other hand, French was so ingrained in people’s everyday lives that any number of Algerian writers feel compelled to account for their decision to write in that language (Yasmina Khadra, Assia Djebar, Kateb Yacine, etc.).

May 11, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re Angelo del Boca

Where did you find that cover? Scary indeed!! Mine, an old copy, has just a plain title.

"Interesting that the worst abuses the book cites happened in countries where, as far as I know, Italian is no longer spoken. That probably contributes to the isolation of the abuses from public consciousness.

Excellent point!! And your first paragraph was right on, too. But Professor del Boca is trying. I wonder how many Italians actually read his books.

And as far as the French . . many Algerian writers live here and the French do publish their books.

May 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anonymous: I did a search for the title, and that came up, It's from Amazon;s listing.

Yasmina Khadra says he chose to write in French rather than Arabic because his French teacher encouraged him, while his Arabic teacher did not. ANd he lives in France, a self-imposed exile not from the independence era but rather from FLN/military rule. And I think it was Kateb Yacine who said: "I write in French to tell the French that I am not French." That nicely captures the nature of the relationship, I'd say.

I know, too, that many Algerian musicians live in France, a place for them to carry on or resume careers that they could not do at home.

May 11, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Here is a variation on a theme: Consider the ways in which Tony Hillerman used (exploited) the tensions between Native Americans and white Americans. Perhaps, however, more recent authors (with whom I not familiar) are similarly handling the same issue. Does this qualify under your rubric?

May 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., it probably would have qualified a few decades ago. I'm not sure relations between Native Americans and those of European descent are that big a theme in American popular culture these days. I would, however, recommend Jason Aron's Scalped.

May 11, 2013  

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