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Category Archive for 'Algeria'

Algerian author Amara Lakhous, now an Italian resident, pens a sly satire of an immigrant’s life in Italy, using the murder of a young man in the elevator of an apartment building adjacent to Piazza Vittorio as the catalyst through which he explores the hidden and not-so-hidden prejudices of Roman residents toward “outsiders.” The victim, Lorenzo Manfredini, also known as the Gladiator, drew nasty pictures, wrote obscenities, and urinated in the building’s elevator, earning the enmity of every resident. When the police investigate, each of the residents and merchants in the immediate vicinity tells his story, revealing hidden agendas and casual resentments against immigrants. Amedeo, a respected resident thought to be an Italian volunteer helping immigrants deal with Roman bureaucracy, is sought for the crime. No one has seen him since the murder. Lakhous cleverly creates twelve unique voices, with each person telling “the truth according to…” These separate voices alternate with “wails” from Amadeo, as he gives his own “take” in response to each statement. Amedeo is not, in fact, an Italian, though he speaks Italian like a native, and his running commentary on life in the apartment building and in Rome, as an immigrant sees it, points up the contrasts between what people say when they think he is Italian and what they say and do about their immigrant neighbors behind their backs.

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Once again, Richard Powers has emerged with a new novel which reinvigorates the whole concept of the “novel of ideas.” As the novel opens, an unknown speaker, acting as a kind of narrative seer, describes Russell Stone’s first night as an adjunct professor at Mesquakie College of Art in Chicago. Russell’s class consists of the usual assortment of art students of various ages with various goals, and, through the information they learn from and about each other as they read their journal entries on successive class meetings, they soon become close. Thassadit Amzwar, a twenty-three-year-old Algerian Berber from Kabylie, however, quickly becomes the focus of the entire group for her perennial good humor and upbeat attitudes. At the same time that Thassa is charming and winning her classmates with an optimism that cannot be quenched, Thomas Kurton, a pure scientist studying the human genome is investigating the chemistry that underlies emotions and the genome which may be responsible for human happiness.

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Set in 1988, twenty-five years after Algeria’s independence from France, the country is still suffering from political instability, corruption, and the residual rivalries and hatreds between those who supported French rule during the war and the FLN and other groups, socialist and otherwise, which fought against French rule. The internecine rivalries and hatreds among a multitude of these local groups, many of which shared the same general goals during the war, have divided families and continued into the next generation with even more bloodshed. The devastated economy at the end of the war has not been improved, people are living in poverty, religious fundamentalism is growing, the young have no future, and citizens everywhere are casting jaded eyes on those who reek of success—shady businessmen, corrupt politicians, and those who have achieved their wealth at the expense of their fellow citizens. In this newest installment of the Inspector Llob series, chronologically the “pre-quel” to the series, author Yasmina Khadra turns a spotlight on Algeria’s devastated country and its demoralized citizens.

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Recreating the traumas that Third World citizens face every day, Djaout offers vivid pictures of their complex but fragile lives. Here, in an unnamed country, presumably Algeria, government bureaucrats are concerned only with protecting themselves, their jobs, and their kickbacks, their fear of change so ingrained that any hope of modernization and real progress is squelched. The average citizen tries to remain anonymous, making do in a society which does not reward excellence. As one bureaucrat explains, “…the words ‘creation’ and ‘invention’ are sometimes condemned because they are perceived as heresy, a questioning of what exists already…of the faith and the prevailing order.”

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It is profoundly affecting to read a book which is not in its final form because its author was assassinated. Doubly moving for the reader is this book’s warning cry against mindless practitioners of fundamentalist oppression, the very people responsible for the author’s death in Algeria. Djaout clearly knew he was in danger, knew why he was in danger, and knew why he, along with other writers and artists, represented a threat to single-minded fanatics in his country, yet he continued to create, leaving behind this final book, a legacy not just to compatriots who might feel like lonely soldiers against intolerance but to lovers of books throughout the world who sometimes take for granted the power and glory of a free press. Almost plotless, the book reveals the thoughts and feelings of Boualem Yekker, a lonely man who finds himself living “a blank life” in a society which has been subsumed by the Regulators of Faith, zealots who worship a god of vengeance and punishment and do not recognize love, forgiveness, or compassion.

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