Algerian Literature

A Reader’s Guide and Anthology

by Abdelkader Aoudjit (Author)
©2017 Monographs XX, 442 Pages


The only up-to-date and comprehensive text and reader of Algerian literature available in English, Algerian Literature: A Reader’s Guide and Anthology offers the reader a historical and critical overview of the literature from the early twentieth century to the present, introduces Algerian authors, and provides selections from a wide range of their writings, many translated here for the first time. It begins with an overview chapter that charts the evolution of Algerian literature and puts it in its proper historical context, followed by five thematic chapters: decolonization and cultural affirmation, the War of Independence, modernization and its discontents, emigration, and history. The chapters begin with introductions on the themes under discussion and the selections are preceded by biographies of the authors, as well as detailed summaries of the larger works from which they are extracted. Finally, each chapter concludes with a bibliography and sources for readers seeking additional information and insight.
The selections included in Algerian Literature: A Reader’s Guide and Anthology have been carefully chosen to reflect the richness and diversity of Algerian literature. Accordingly, they are extracted from various literary genres: novels, plays, and poems. Furthermore, they are from works that belong to different literary movements: realism, modernism, and postmodernism.
The variety and the outstanding quality of the selections, along with the superb introductions, summaries, and biographies make Algerian Literature: A Reader’s Guide and Anthology an ideal text for courses in Algerian, Francophone, and world literature courses. It will also be of interest to general readers outside the classroom who want to broaden their literary horizons.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Antecedents and Evolution of Algerian Literature
  • Fiction and Poetry in French
  • Fiction
  • First Period: 1893–1945
  • Second Period: 1945–1962
  • Third Period: 1962–Present
  • Poetry
  • “Note,” Jean El Mouhoub Amrouche
  • “Song for Yasmine,” Mohammed Ould Cheikh
  • “Love and Liberty,” Kaddour M’Hamsadji
  • “Poem-Program,” Jean Sénac
  • “Word of Ordeal,” Djamel Amrani
  • “Future,” Youssef Sebti
  • “Indictment,” Abdelhamid Laghouati
  • “Spring,” Khaled Benneceur
  • “The Wedding of the Wind and the Rain,” Ali El Hadj Tahar
  • “More Beautiful Than Those of Elsa,” Abou Ilias
  • Fiction and Poetry in Arabic
  • Fiction
  • In the Company of the Wise Man’s Donkey, Ahmed Réda Houhou
  • Poetry in Classical Arabic
  • “Greeting of the Oulémas,” Mohamed Saïd El-Zahiri
  • “I Stay Awake,” Mabrouka Boussaha
  • Poetry in Algerian Arabic Dialect
  • “The Crown of the Noble Prophets,” Lakhdar Benkhlouf
  • “God Bless Our Quintessential Guide,” Ahmed Ben Triki
  • “O My God, Cure Me of the Pain of Love and Strike Her with It!,” Cheikh Belabbès
  • “The Beautiful Woman in a Wonderful Attire,” Henni Benguennoune
  • “Hiziya,” Mohamed Benguitoune
  • Traditional Oral Literature
  • Three Poems in an Algerian Tamazight Dialect
  • Theatre
  • Further Reading
  • Anthologies
  • Surveys
  • Theatre
  • 2. Decolonization
  • Introduction
  • Ismaël Aït Djafer, Wail for the Beggars of the Casbah
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Mouloud Feraoun, The Poor Man’s Son
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Mohammed Dib, The Algeria Trilogy: The Big House, The Fire, and The Loom
  • Biography
  • Summary (The Big House)
  • Summary (The Fire)
  • Summary (The Loom)
  • Mouloud Mammeri, The Forgotten Hill
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Mouloud Mammeri, The Sleep of the Just
  • Summary
  • Rabie Bouchama, “Commemoration of May 8, 1945”
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Kateb Yacine, The Surrounded Cadaver
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Further Reading in Literature and Decolonization
  • Novels
  • Bibliographies and Biographies
  • History
  • Studies
  • 3. The War of Independence
  • Introduction
  • Fiction
  • Theatre
  • Mouloud Mammeri, Opium and the Stick
  • Summary
  • Malek Haddad, The Last Impression
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Rachid Boudjedra, The Winner of the Cup
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Mohammed Dib, Who Remembers the Sea
  • Summary
  • Assia Djebar, The Children of the New World
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Tahar Ouettar, The Ace
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Yamina Mechakra, The Exploded Cave
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Leïla Sebbar, The Seine Was Red
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Mouloud Mammeri, Cast Out Nines
  • Summary
  • Mohamed Boudia, Births
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • War Poetry
  • “Gazelle at Daybreak,” Noureddine Aba
  • “For My Torturer, Lieutenant D.,” Leila Djabali
  • “Tonight is Mouloud,” Zhor Zerari
  • “The Camp,” Anna Gréki
  • “Algiers the Red,” Henri Kréa
  • “On Earth, Wandering,” Mohammed Dib
  • “From the Bottom of Prisons,” Moufdi Zakaria
  • “Prison of My Brothers,” Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi
  • “Hands and Feet Bound,” Jean Sénac
  • “This Morning They Dared,” Annie Steiner
  • “The Algerian Struggle,” Jean Amrouche
  • Further Reading on the War of Independence
  • Bibliographies
  • Anthologies
  • Studies
  • History
  • 4. Emigration
  • Introduction
  • Mouloud Feraoun, Land and Blood
  • Summary
  • Mouloud Feraoun, The Ascending Paths
  • Summary
  • Mohammed Dib, Habel
  • Summary
  • Rachid Boudjedra, Ideal Topography for a Characterized Aggression
  • Summary
  • Taos Amrouche, Black Hyacinth
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Kateb Yacine, Mohamed Take Your Suitcase
  • Summary
  • Azouz Begag, Shantytown Kid
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Mehdi Charef, Tea in the Harem
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Farida Belghoul, Georgette!
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Mohammed Dib, Guarding Shadow (Poems)
  • Summary
  • Songs of Emigration and Nostalgia
  • Further Reading in the Literature of Emigration and Being Away from Home
  • Anthologies
  • Studies
  • 5. Modernization and Its Discontents
  • Introduction
  • Abdlehamid Benhedouga, The Southern Wind
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Tahar Ouettar, The Earthquake
  • Summary
  • Ahlam Mosteghanemi, The Chaos of the Senses
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Rachid Mimouni, The Honor of the Tribe
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Mohammed Sari, The Tumor
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Slimane Benaïssa, Keep Going Forward, Boualem
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Yasmina Khadra, In the Name of God
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • 6. Rethinking History
  • Introduction
  • Kateb Yacine, Nedjma
  • Summary
  • Tahar Djaout, The Invention of the Desert
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Rachid Boudjedra, The Capture of Gibraltar
  • Summary
  • Assia Djebar, Far from Medina
  • Summary
  • Waciny Laredj, The Andalusian House
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Amin Zaoui, The Last Jew of Tamentit
  • Biography
  • Summary
  • Further Reading on Rethinking History in Algerian Literature Studies
  • Timetable of Turning Points in Algerian History and of Writers and Texts Discussed
  • Glossary
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

| xiii →

Abdelkader Aoudjit states in his introduction that his Algerian Literature: A Reader’s Guide and Anthology can be used in many ways: as a text in surveys of Algerian, Francophone, and world literature courses, and that it also may be of interest to the general reader outside the classroom. It is to this last area that I would like to address this preface. In an earlier work by Aoudjit, The Algerian Novel and Colonial Discourse, he applies Jean-François Lyotard’s concept of the différend to a number of twentieth-century Algerian writers. The Norton Anthology of World Literature includes, regrettably, only one author from Algeria, Albert Camus. Its emphasis is on Camus as a “philosopher of the absurd” (2571), unlike Aoudjit’s treatment of Algerian authors that emphasizes “the aspect of witnessing to a différend, which is to challenge the hegemony of the dominant discourse and give voice to previously marginalized groups” (5). In his new book, Aoudjit introduces authors that the English speaking reader might not be familiar with, like Dib, Boudjedra, Mammeri, Feraoun, Kateb, Djebar and others. It is this aspect of Aoudjit’s work that will be of interest to the general reader or the student who has taken a course in world literature, and to whom I highly recommend Aoudjit’s reader’s guide and anthology. An additional distinctive feature of Aoudjit’s book is his own translations of some selections from Algerian authors. Lastly, an important contribution that Aoudjit makes is his reassessment of the Algerian literature ← xiii | xiv → in the Algerian Literature: A Reader’s Guide and Anthology based on a rethinking of history. Chapter 6 emphasizes “one-dimensional, hegemonic, and simplistic readings of history that obscure and suppress important elements of the past are dangerous.” Aoudjit goes on to explain how a number of Algerian authors used narrative techniques of what Linda Hutcheon calls “historiographic metafiction” to “reexamine familiar narratives of Algerian past and their assumptions.” This aspect of the Reader’s Guide makes it not only a valuable compendium of Algerian literature, but a perspicacious application of critical theory.

John Foster Robertson

| xv →

I am grateful to many people for the help they provided me at various stages of this project. First of all, I would like to thank Amy DiGiovine for her support and thoughtful reading of the manuscript. Special thanks also go to John Foster Robertson, who provided valuable feedback on various sections of the book and to the interlibrary loan officers of Northern Virginia Community College—Annandale, Bill Fleming and Sarah Lawless, who always responded promptly and cheerfully to my never-ending requests. Another debt I am delighted to acknowledge is to Dr. Abdelaziz Bettayeb for his help regarding some thorny translation issues. I would also like to express my gratitude to my brother, Saïd, and my nephew, Lamara; the former for going out of his way to send me all the books I asked for, and the latter for his help with financial transactions involving Parisian publishers. Finally, I wish to thank Cathy Kiami O’Malley for reviewing the list of references. I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr. Mohamed Sennaoui who opened my eyes to the wonderful world of literature at Aïn-Séfra High School.

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders for the works reproduced herein. In some instances I have been unable to trace the owners of copyrighted material, and I would appreciate any information that would enable me to do so in the future.

| xvii →

While starting as a subdivision of Francophone literature whose study was limited to French departments in colleges and universities, Algerian literature1 has during the last thirty years received increasing scholarly attention in and outside those departments due to the recognition of its quality, the revision of the literary canon, and the growing interest in world literature.

Despite this attraction, however, a comprehensive introduction to the subject that also showcases Algerian writings is nonexistent. Indeed, although anthologies that include selections from Algerian writings and several studies of specific authors and themes are available, none of them is adequate.2 First, the studies are ← xvii | xviii → too specialized for the uninitiated; second, most anthologies are out of date, do not include Algerian writers in the right proportions, or do not provide a map of themes and authors; and finally, studies and anthologies alike focus almost exclusively on literature in French.3 While it is true that the literature in French far outweighs those in other languages, in the past forty years there has developed in standard Arabic a literature of outstanding quality, especially novels.4 Furthermore, there is a long tradition of poetry in Algerian Arabic and Tamazight dialects. Finally, a theatrical tradition in the country’s Arabic dialect that combines the best of Algerian and European dramatic arts has been growing for a century. These works cannot be ignored and deserve a place in any survey of Algerian literature.

The purpose of this book is to fill this regrettable gap in the bibliography of Algerian literature. More precisely, it offers the reader a historical and critical overview of the literature from the early twentieth century to the present, explains the major themes that have preoccupied Algerian authors, and provides selections from a wide range of their writings. In addition to an overview chapter, the book is divided into five chapters according to five themes: decolonization and cultural affirmation, war, modernization and its discontents, emigration, and history. Each chapter begins with an introduction on the theme under discussion and each selection is preceded by a brief biography of the author, emphasizing aspects of his or her life that are relevant to understanding the work, as well as a detailed summary of the novel, play, or collection of poems from which the selection is extracted. At the end of each chapter are a bibliography and sources for the readers seeking additional information and insight.

The selections have been carefully chosen to reflect the richness and diversity of Algerian literature. Accordingly, they are extracted from various literary genres: novels, plays, and poems. Furthermore, they are from works that belong to different literary movements: realism, modernism, and postmodernism, holding ← xviii | xix → different ideas about literature and using different narrative techniques and styles. Finally, even though the bulk of the selections are from Francophone works, the book includes samples from works originally written in standard and vernacular Arabic. It also includes translations from oral literature in Tamazight.5

1. For the purpose of this book, Algerians are native Tamazight and Arabic speakers as well as writers of European descent who fought for the independence of Algeria, among whom are Jean Sénac, Anna Gréki, Henri Kréa, Emmanuel Roblès, and Annie Steiner.

2. There are three anthologies that include translations from Algerian works: Kaye, J. (Ed.). (1992). Maghreb: New writing from North Africa. York, England: Talus Editions; Joris, P., & Tengour, H. (Eds.). Poems for the new millennium. Berkeley: University of California Press; and Ortzen, L. (1986) North African writing. London: Heinemann.

3. The only monograph in English that focuses on Algerian literature in Arabic is Cox, D. (2003). Politics, language, and gender in the Algerian Arabic novel. London: Saqi.
Jayussi, S.K. (Ed.). (2005). Modern Arabic fiction: An anthology. New York: Columbia University Press., includes only Tahar Ouettar’s short story, The martyrs are coming back this week.

4. Arabophone novelists are familiar with the works of their francophone counterparts. Many write also in French: Waciny Laredj, Amin Zaoui, Mohamed Sari, H’mida Ayachi, and Bachir Mefti.

5. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are mine.

| 1 →

Algeria has a long history of great literary achievement stretching back to antiquity. Algerians wrote in Greek, Latin, Arabic, and French, and contributed to classical European civilization some of its most illustrious writers: Apuleius (125 AD–180 AD), Augustine (354–430 AD), Arnobius of Sicca (died c. 330 AD), Juba II (52/50 BC–23 AD), Fronton (95 BC–170 BC), Saint Cyprian (200–258 AD), Terrence (195 BC–159 AD), and Tertullian (160–225 AD). In addition to written mainstream literature, Algerians have also produced for centuries in Tamazight,1 a traditional oral literature that includes tales, poems, and oratory.

Of all the invaders who were attracted by Algeria and its riches—it was known as the breadbasket of Rome—Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, and French, only the Arabic-speaking Muslims and the French have made a lasting impact on its culture. The former, sweeping out ← 1 | 2 → of the Arabian Peninsula after the death of the prophet Mohamed in 632 AD and conquering the Maghreb2 by the end of the seventh century, spread a new language and a new religion, profoundly changing the lives of its inhabitants.3 The violent encounter with the latter throughout most of the nineteenth and a large portion of the twentieth centuries (1830–1962), which cost Algerians millions of lives and caused an enormous amount of misery, resulted in the acquisition of a new language and new cultural elements.

By contrast, few vestiges of the Greek and Roman civilizations remain. As to the Ottomans, they were more interested in controlling maritime traffic in the Mediterranean and collecting taxes than in cultivating art, philosophy, and literature. Their presence did not produce any literary work of significance and had little effect on the Algerian linguistic landscape, for Arabic and Tamazight dialects remained the means of expression of Algerians throughout the Ottoman period of their history. It is not surprising, therefore, that Algerian literature is in French, Arabic, and Tamazight.

Though many good and historically valuable works of literature, especially poetry, were produced before the twentieth century, none are comparable to those produced in the past one hundred years or so. Indeed, a distinctly Algerian literature—written mainly in French but also in Arabic, yet neither French nor Middle Eastern—expressing Algerian personality, traditions, historical experience, and transformations has been evolving for well over a hundred years. Whatever influence foreign invaders had on their culture, Algerians have always molded it to fit their guiding beliefs and ideals and their particular forms of expression.

Fiction and Poetry in French


Many students of Algerian literature in French focus on the contemporary period, taking 1952, the year of the publication of Mouloud Feraoun’s Le Fils du pauvre (The Poor Man’s Son), as the point of departure. While it cannot be denied that ← 2 | 3 → the 1950s produced a literature that is stronger and of a better quality than most of what was produced before, to concentrate on the contemporary period exclusively is to ignore several decades of literary production in French and an important phase in Algerian intellectual history. Indeed, Algerians started using French as a means of literary expression as early as the last decade of the nineteenth century.

Based on the major preoccupation of the authors, Algerian literature in French can be divided into roughly three periods: (1) the period of assimilation, extending from the end of the nineteenth century to 1945; (2) the period of decolonization and the struggle for independence, spanning the years between 1945 and 1962; and finally, (3) the period of self-affirmation and social criticism stretching from 1962 to the present. Within each period, especially the third, however, there are distinct phases and trends depending on the authors’ focus, style, and narrative techniques.

First Period: 1893–1945

Algerians began writing fiction in French as early as the end of the nineteenth century. Scholars4 acknowledge M’Hamed Ben Rahal, who wrote La vengeance du cheikh (The Cheikh’s Vengeance) in 1891; Mustapha Allaoua, who published Le Faux talisman (The False Talisman) in 1893; and Omar Samar (pseudonym of Zeid Ben Dieb), who published Ali, O mon frère (Ali, O My Brother) in the review El-Hack in 1893 as the first Algerian writers of fiction in French. They were followed by Seddik Ben El Outa, Fils de grande tente (Son of a Big Tent, 1908) and Ahmed Bouri, who published Musulmans et chrétiens (Muslims and Christians) in the same review in 1912. Other prominent novelists of the period are Mohamed Ben Si Ahmed Benchérif, Ahmed Ben Mostapha, goumier5 (Ahmed Ben Mostapha, Goumier, 1920); Abdelkader Hadj Hamou, Zohra, la femme du mineur (Zohra, The Minor’s Wife, 1925) and (with Robert Randau) Les Compagnons du jardin (The Garden Companions, 1933); Slimane Ben Brahim (with Etienne Dinet), Khadra, danseuse des Ouled Nail (Khadra, Dancer of the Ouled Nail, 1926); Choukri Khodja (pseudonym of Hassen Khodja Hamdane), Mamoun, l’ébauche d’un idéal (Mamoun, Sketch of an Ideal, 1928) and El-Euldj, captif des barbaresques (El-Euldj, Prisoner of the Corsairs,1929); Saad Ben Ali (with René ← 3 | 4 → Pottier), La Tente noire, roman saharien (The Black Tent, Saharan Novel, 1933); Saïd Guennoun, La Voix des monts, mœurs de guerre berbères (The Voice of the Mounts, Berber Customs of War, 1934); Mohammed Ould Cheikh, Myriem dans les palmes (Myriem in Palm Leaves, 1936); Ali Belhadj (pseudonym of Mohammed Sifi), Souvenirs d’enfance d’un blédard (Childhood Memories of a Country Boy, 1941); Aïssa Zehar, Hind à l’âme pure ou Histoire d’une mère (Hind, the Kind Soul or a Mother’s Story, 1942); Rabah Zenati, Bou-el-Nouar, le jeune Algérien (Bou-el-Nouar, the Young Algerian, 1945); Djamila Debêche, Leila, jeune fille d’Algérie (Leila, Young Woman of Algeria, 1947) and Aziza (1955); and Taos Amrouche, Jacinthe noire (Black Hyacinth, 1947) and Rue des tambourins (The Street of Tambourine Players, 1960). Even though the last two authors wrote after 1945, they belong, due to their themes, to the first rather than to the second phase in the development of Algerian literature in French. Jean Amrouche, on the other hand, belongs more to the second period because of his forceful support of Algerian independence.

Until these first Francophone authors, literature in and about Algeria was dominated by Europeans who indulged in descriptions of what they made look like exotic landscapes, people, and customs to entertain their French readers. Those writers were also staunch supporters of colonialism. Pierre Loti, Eugène Fromentin, and Guy de Maupassant are the most famous representatives of this kind of literature, sometimes called touristic literature. However, despite the dominance of colonial writers and the fact that an infinitesimally small number of Algerians were allowed to go to school, a native literature in French developed in Algeria.

The colonialist regime tolerated only Algerian writers who supported the status quo or at least did not challenge it. As a result, the first Algerian Francophone writers seem, at first glance, to confine themselves to inoffensive personal issues of assimilation or non-assimilation. They wrote about cultural disruption; the problems and challenges educated Algerians faced trying to reconcile the old and the new cultures; the rift between traditional families and their French-educated offspring; the conflict between assimilation to a different culture and loyalty to one’s traditions, religion, and countrymen; and finally, the problematic relationship between men and women of different and sometimes antagonistic cultural and class backgrounds.

As regards form, the works of this period are imitative of French novels and betray an eagerness on the part of their authors to show their mastery of the French language. Consequently, they are often very conventional and scholastic in their style and narrative techniques. ← 4 | 5 →

These first writers have made many critics uneasy. Some, notably Jean Déjeux (1978, p. 20), Jean-Louis Joubert (1994, p. 14), Mohamed Bouguerra (2010, p. 7), accuse them of pandering to colonialists by presenting typically exotic adventures, characters, and settings and accepting the colonialist representation of Algeria as stagnant and backward. Other commentators such as Abdelkader Djeghloul (1991, pp. 9–42), Ahmed Lanasri (1995, pp. 177–286), Charles Bonn and Najet Khadda (1996, pp. 6–7), and Christiane Achour (1990, pp. 33–34) believe that these works are more critical than they appear. Indeed, a critique of the French occupation is in almost all the works of the era, albeit in a subtle manner, through allusions and double-entendre, even if the authors were not concerned with the overthrow of the colonialist order but rather with preserving their culture and religion and transforming Algerian society presented as traditional. For instance, the fact that many stories end tragically may be interpreted as the failure of assimilation. In addition, although some writers, such as Benchérif and Hadj Hamou, were fervent supporters of the French presence in Algeria and at times valorized French over Algerian culture, not all of them were so. To understand these authors’ attitudes towards the colonial regime, one has to bear in mind that the socio-political climates of the first half of the twentieth century and that of the 1950s were different. The political environment of the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s was not as conducive for literary works of protest as that of the 1950s because of severe censorship. Furthermore, at that time, there was still some hope for justice for Algerians by peaceful means.

Second Period: 1945–1962

The events of May 8, 1945,6 when forty-five thousand Algerians were massacred in a cowardly manner by the French army, police, and civilian militias in Sétif, Guelma, and Kherrata, and the start of the War of Independence on November 1, 1954, set the stage for the second period of Algerian Francophone literature. ← 5 | 6 → Indeed, the failure of all political and peaceful attempts to obtain for Algerians the same rights the Europeans enjoyed and the carnage of 1945 drastically changed the relationship between Algerians and the French authorities. The rift between them reached the point of no return.

Mouloud Feraoun, Mohammed Dib, Mouloud Mammeri, Kateb Yacine, Malek Haddad, Mostefa Lacheraf, and most Algerian authors of the period between 1954 and 1962 shared the revolutionary ideology of the Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front, FLN). In fact, many of them were directly involved in the nationalist movement. For example, poet and essayist Mostefa Lacheraf was a prominent member of the FLN and one of the six leaders who were kidnapped by the French government on October 22, 1956, when the plane that was flying them from Rabat to Tunis was forced to land in Algiers.7 Kateb Yacine, Mohammed Boudia, Anna Gréki, Leila Djabali, Ahmed Ayad, Tewfik Khaznadar, Zhor Zerari, and countless other novelists, playwrights, and poets were imprisoned, and some even tortured by the colonial regime. Jean Amrouche served as an intermediary between French president Charles de Gaulle and Ferhat Abbas, the president of the Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne (GPRA). Malek Haddad represented the FLN in the Soviet Union, Egypt, and India. Mouloud Mammeri wrote the FLN delegation’s address to the United Nations on September 27, 1957. Some writers paid with their lives: Ahmed Réda Houhou and Mouloud Feraoun were assassinated by French terrorist organizations; the former by La Main Rouge (The Red Hand), run by the foreign department of the French intelligence services, on March 29, 1956; and the latter by the right-wing Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS), on March 15, 1962.

The most important works of the period include Aly El-Hammamy’s Idris (Idris, 1948), Feraoun’s Le Fils du pauvre (The Poor Man’s Son, 1952), La Terre et le sang (Land and Blood, 1953), and Les Chemins qui montent (The Ascending Paths, 1957); Mohammed Dib’s La Grande maison (The Big House, 1952), L’Incendie (The Fire,1954), and Le Métier à tisser (The Loom,1957); Mouloud Mammeri’s La Colline oubliée (The Forgotten Hill, 1952) and Le Sommeil du juste (The Sleep of the Just, 1955); Kateb Yacine’s Nedjma (1956); and Malek Haddad’s La Dernière impression (The Last Impression, 1958), Je t’offrirai une gazelle (I Will ← 6 | 7 → Offer You a Gazelle, 1959), and Le Quai aux Fleurs ne répond plus (The Quai aux Fleurs No Longer Answers, 1961).8

One thing that sets Feraoun, Dib, Mammeri, Kateb, and Haddad apart from their predecessors is that they vehemently protested the unjust economic, social, and political conditions under the colonial regime. In addition, they pointed out the contradictions between the French political ideals and their actual practice. Furthermore, they challenged and deconstructed the ideology that demeaned their people and vilified their culture to justify colonialism. Finally, they were defiant; they called for armed struggle and reversed the subject-object relationship at the basis of colonialist ideology. Algerians become subjects; they are the heroes, and the French settlers, military, and police are the villains. Formally, except for Kateb Yacine, most chose to represent life in a realistic vein.

Third Period: 1962–Present

The War of Independence and colonialism continued to play an important role in post-colonial Algerian literature. A number of novels of exceptional quality about the war were published in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Among the most noteworthy are Mouloud Mammeri’s L’Opium et le bâton (The Opium and the Stick, 1965), Mohammed Dib’s Qui se souvient de la mer (Who Remembers the Sea, 1962), Rachid Boudjedra’s Le Vainqueur de coupe (The Winner of the Cup, 1981); Yamina Mechakra ‘s La Grotte éclatée (The Exploded Cave, 1979); Assia Djebar’s Les Enfants du nouveau monde (The Children of the New World, 1962); Chabane Ouahioune’s La Maison au bout des champs (The House at the End of the Fields, 1979); Mohammed Chaib’s La Dernière épreuve (The Last Ordeal, 1983); and Azzédine Bounemeur’s Les Bandits de l’Atlas (The Atlas Bandits, 1983), Les Lions de la nuit (The Lions of the Night, 1985), and L’Atlas en feu (The Atlas on Fire, 1987).

The post-war period, however, is marked by the emergence of new concerns and new themes, one of which is rebellion against the tyranny of tradition and patriarchy in the pursuit of self-expression. The best known novel associated with this theme is Rachid Boudjedra’s La Répudiation (1969). It is an intensely violent novel depicting the abuse the protagonist and his mother suffer at the hands of a tyrannical father who divorces his thirty-year-old wife to marry a younger woman. In this novel, Boudjedra grapples with issues that used to be taboo in Algeria and suggests a connection between patriarchy and authoritarianism. Less ← 7 | 8 → angry and less resentful but equally critical of social coercion is Jamel Ali Khodja’s La Mante religieuse (The Praying Mantis, 1976).

In the 1980s and 1990s, Algerian Francophone literature moved from the personal and psychological to a concern with social issues. One such issue is the tension between rural and urban environments, another is bureaucracy, and still another is religious intolerance and terrorism that plagued Algeria in the 1990s.

Perhaps the most impressive of the literary works dealing with the themes of bureaucracy and modernization are Boudjedra’s L’Escargot entêté (The Obstinate Snail, 1983), Tahar Djaout’s Les Vigiles (The Watchers, 1991) and Rachid Mimouni’s Le Fleuve détourné (The Diverted River, 1982), Tombéza (Tombeza, 1983), and L’Honneur de la tribu (The Honor of the Tribe, 1989). These novels deplore bureaucratic red tape, the excess of regulations, and the lack of professionalism of some civil servants.

As critical as the novels of Djaout and Mimouni, but less radical and less negative and at times conservative and openly didactic, are Mohammed Chaib, Le Déchirement (The Tearing, 1980) and La Dernière épreuve (The Last Ordeal, 1983); Khélifa Benamara, La Mue (The Molting, 1985); and Rabia Ziani, Le Déshérité (The Disinherited, 1981), Ma montagne (My Mountain, 1984), L’Impossible bonheur (The Impossible Happiness, 1986), and Le Secret de Marie (Marie’s Secret, 1996).

A concern with the past, its meaning, and its uses for the present and the future is also a frequent subject of recent Algerian literature, notably Djebar’s L’Amour, la fantasia (Love, Fantasia, 1985) and Loin de Médine (Far from Medina, 1991), Tahar Djaout’s L’Invention du désert (The Invention of the Desert, 1987), Boudjedra’s La Prise de Gibraltar (The Capture of Gibraltar, 1987), Waciny Laredj’s Al-Beit al-andalusi (The Andalusian House, 2011), and Amin Zaoui’s Le Dernier Juif de Tamentit (The Last Jew of Tamentit, 2012).

No one style and narrative technique dominates post-colonial Algerian literature. For example, while Mimouni’s novels and those of Chaib, Benamara, and Ziani are realist even though the latter three are less challenging than the former, Boudjedra’s novels are modernist and Djaout’s L’Invention du désert (The Invention of the Desert, 1987) and Ahlam Mosteghanemi’s Fawda al-hawaas (The Chaos of the Senses, 1997) are unquestionably postmodernist.9 ← 8 | 9 →

The towering figure of post-war Algerian literature is undoubtedly Mohammed Dib. Leaving his earlier realism behind, he explored reality in his seventies writings such as Qui se souvient de la mer (Who Remembers the Sea) by means of experimental, surrealist narrative forms combining real and unusual events and characters, often of a fantastic nature. Like Mimouni and Djaout, he was also concerned with social problems as in, for example, La Dance du roi (The Dance of the King, 1968) and Le Maître de chasse (The Hunt Master, 1973), but he eventually turned to other themes; in a series of metaphysical novels Terrasses d’Orsol (Orsol’s Terrasses, 1985), Le Sommeil d’Ève (Eve’s Sleep, 1989), and Neiges de marbre (Snows of Marble, 1990), known as La Trilogie nordique (The Nordic Trilogy), he explores issues of human condition: love, death, and being away from home, often through a reflection on language, which is necessary yet inadequate to reveal them.


Corresponding to the three periods in the development of Algerian francophone fiction there have been three phases in the evolution of Algerian poetry, reflecting the changes in the thematic preoccupations of the poets and in their conceptions of the nature and function of poetry.

“Note,” Jean El Mouhoub Amrouche

The outstanding poet of the first period (1917–1945)10 is Jean El Mouhoub Amrouche11 who published in Tunis Cendres (Ashes) in 1934 and Étoile secrète ← 9 | 10 → (Secret Star) in 1937. One of his most anthologized works is the following metaphysical poem in which he meditates on how language has a dynamic of its own that transcends the intentions of speakers and writers, making him a forerunner of the idea of the death of the author, made famous by Roland Barthes.


My words emerge in me

Like iridescent bubbles

That will die on sad waters.

I said nothing that was mine,

I said nothing that was from me,

Oh! Tell me the origin

Of the words that sing in me. ← 10 | 11 →

I could not create images

Nor load words with magic,

What hand joined things

In the nonexistence of my memory,

Making them burst suddenly

In the fruits of a strange love?

Is it the hand of an Angel, present and absent in me?

Is it the hand of a God, watching over from beyond me?

Who would tell me the fate of these words of someone unknown?

Of what are they messengers?

Of whom am I the messenger?


Mes paroles émergent en moi

Comme les bulles irisées

Qui vont mourir sur les eaux tristes.

Je n’ai rien dit qui fut à moi,

Je n’ai rien dit qui fut de moi,

Ah ! dites-moi l’origine

Des paroles qui chantent en moi !

Je n’ai pu créer des images

Ni charger les mots de magie,

Quelle main unissait les choses

Dans le néant de ma mémoire,

Les faisant éclater soudain

Dans les fruits d’un amour étrange?

Est-ce la main d’un Ange, en moi présente et absente?

Est-ce la main d’un Dieu veillant au-delà de moi-même?

Qui me dira le destin de ces paroles d’inconnu?

De quoi sont-elles messagères?

De qui suis-je le messager?]

(Amrouche, 1986, p. 39)

“Song for Yasmine,” Mohammed Ould Cheikh


XX, 442
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XX, 442 pp.

Biographical notes

Abdelkader Aoudjit (Author)

Abdelkader Aoudjit is Professor of Philosophy at Northern Virginia Community College. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Georgetown University, Washington DC. He is the author of The Algerian Novel and Colonial Discourse: Witnessing to a Différend (Peter Lang, 2010).


Title: Algerian Literature