Algerian White: A Narrative
In Algerian White, Assia Djebar weaves a tapestry of the epic and bloody ongoing struggle in her country between Islamic fundamentalism and the post-colonial civil society. Many Algerian writers and intellectuals have died tragically and violently since the 1956 struggle for independence. They include three beloved friends of Djebar: Mahfoud Boucebi, a psychiatrist; M'Hamed Boukhobza, a sociologist; and Abdelkader Alloula, a dramatist; as well as Albert Camus. In Algerian White, Djebar finds a way to meld the personal and the political by describing in intimate detail the final days and hours of these and other Algerian men and women, many of whom were murdered merely because they were teachers, or writers, or students. Yet, for Djebar, they cannot be silenced. They continue to tell stories, smile, and endure through her defiant pen. Both fiction and memoir, Algerian White describes with unerring accuracy the lives and deaths of those whose contributions were cut short, and then probes even deeper into the meaning of friendship through imagined conversations and ghostly visitations.
sad smile softened her face. A group of teachers and journalists from the “Committee of Vigilance for Truth Concerning the Death of Tahar Djaout”—over which Mahoud had presided—sat in the drawing room among other friends. A woman academic recalled aloud, in a dreamy voice: “At Tahar’s funeral, you remember: Mahfoud, as he left us, turned around and exclaimed—Mahfoud who liked to joke about and against everything: “And now who’s next?” At this evocation, one woman, sitting near them, broke
had passed people came running from all around: they thought for a moment that there had been a full-scale plastic bomb attack on the premises. A fifteen-year-old—Hammoutène’s son—was playing not far away: he thinks of his father and rushes onto the road. At a crossroads, he passes the two cars with the armed men, driving away unhurriedly in the opposite direction. He makes it to the “Château-Royal.” He is among the first to kneel beside the bodies: underneath Feraoun, still in the throws of the
painter Issiakhem, and other young politically engaged compatriots. He aspired to be a poet, under the influence of Louis Aragon, who praised his first collection of poems: Le Malheur en danger. Someone told me that his brief voluntary exile in the Libyan desert had influenced his vocation even more forcefully. So what do I seek in unreeling this procession of the dead? (I am seized with anxiety, perhaps I shall be gripped by the violent desire to cross over there, to pass in my turn over
friends, in the Oran evening, you make them hum the litanies of la Cheikha. Now, almost astride the windowsill—as though, with the mist, you were about to dissipate as well—you murmur or hum: “La Cheikha, do you remember her that year?” “Yes, of course, it was you who told me, during those days in Oran, who told me of the pilgrimage, the first pilgrimage, from la Cheikha to Mecca. Then to convince her that to sing wine, love, pleasure between two people, remained allowable: it was hardly easy;
madmen of God” had decreed the school strike they wanted to impose upon the population—a distant echo, no doubt, of the “Battle of Algiers” that Abane Ramdane had conceived and then organized during the seven days of the general strike. To explain the murder of this teacher, however, some people recalled that a year earlier a very wellknown imam, of the same pacifist Islamic movement, had been kidnapped in Blida—the town the principal had come from. He had expressed a stubborn refusal to support