L’Amour, la fantasia, Albin Michel, 1995
Kärleken kriget: en algerisk mosaic, Leopard förlag, 2003
A selection of Swedish reviews
« Bring Assia Djebar’s novel if you’re sent to a deserted island » Gunlog Kolbe, Hallands Nyheter
As a Swedish middle class woman with high education, it’s easy to become self-conceited and narrow-minded. It’s easy to pick books that will ensure one’s own excellent identity and by « duty » one reads stories from other parts of the world where women with completely different destinies than those we usually encounter are represented. But these stories seldom reach us. One reads them with the same kind of distance as if watching a discussion on TV. Well, one thinks, this is not about me. In some mysterious way, these stories disappear in the buzz of the media.
Then one day I hold in my hand Assia Djebar’s novel Kärleken, kriket – en algerisk mosaik.
This is a novel that is a pure pleasure to read and to reread. In an extremely fascinating way, past is mixed with present. Djebar tells the story about a well educated Algerian woman’s childhood, about the female community with its strict rules, its curiosity towards the outside world and its defying acts, for example when starting a secret correspondence and when answering to personal adds. These stories are alternated with descriptions of war from the beginning of the 19th century, detailed eyewitness stories that tell how the French occupied and oppressed Algeria.
The reader oscillates between fear and security, between distance and identification. In one moment the reader is taken to a research library to read eyewitness stories about the war between Algeria and France, in another the reader follows a line of thoughts on the capacity of the written word to transcend all limits. Then the reader meets the poor but unbreakable partisan woman who sacrifices everything that is important to her without hesitation.
A male and a female perspective on reality are contrasted without judgement – they simply exist. In this novel one meets a multitude of destinies and events that are intertwined and together constitute those roots that formed the narrator.
As I lay on the beach reading Kärleken, kriket – en algerisk mosaik I think of the difference between good and bad literature, evil and goodness, media reporting from Iraq, clashes between cultures. Finally I wonder how I would answer the question: « If you were sent to a deserted island, what would you bring? » I would definitely bring Kärleken, kriket, because it can be reread several times and apart from being well-written, exciting, fascinating, it provokes new thoughts and raises new questions.
« Lost sisterhood – the price of freedom » Rita Tornborg, Svenska Dagbaldet, 2003
The French occupation of Algeria started on July 13, 1830. The Algerian people would have to wait until 1962 before the country, after eight ears of war that took more than a million human lives, became independent. In a short, magnificently concentrated chapter, characterized by Assia Djebar’s historical irony, the reader gets to follow the impressive French fleet as it approaches Alger, « the impregnable city » that surrenders after just a few days of siege like an « abandoned body on a carpet of dark green ». Alger – a defeated female body.
On this point, Assia Djebar defies every rule of good taste, when she low-voiced but with insistence demonstrates the sexual and phallic element of every conquest, in every military operation. Algeria is assaulted, raped, penetrated by the French.
Here love is, as the title indicates, more a fantasia about something daring, hope that transgresses every limit. Assia Djebar, the quiet iconoclast, has in Kärleken, kriket given the Western reader access to a world he or she really knows nothing about. And at the same time she has given the reader a possibility to reflect on his or her personal rapport to the Other, whatever its religion or ethnicity.
Karleken, kriget is one of those rare books that one immediately wants to reread once the last page is reached.
«Assia Djebar, Kärleken, kriget », Disa Håstad, Bonniers litterära magasin, 2003
As a child, I made a sketch of a long serial novel that would follow a French family during a hundred years, 1770-1870. It turned out to be a lot of family members and I tried to get rid of them by making them participate in wars and revolutions. Thus I sent some of the younger grand sons to the expedition of 1830 that begun the bloody conquest of Algeria.
Of course, this doesn’t make me an accomplice to the crimes committed during this war. However, one can wonder what made it natural for a Swedish twelve-year old in 1952, two years prior to the beginning of the war of liberation, to adapt and recreate the conquest of Algeria, which was something my generation would condemn as imperialism a couple of decades later.
The Algerian author Assia Djebar reanimates both the war of conquest and the war of liberation in her latest novel Kärleken, kriket and each bloody detail. Inspired by contemporary notes, Djebar lets us know that during the occupation two Algerian tribes were smoked out like animals by the French – a treatment that the National Assembly in Paris considered to be barbaric. What is striking is her objective narrative perspective: she doesn’t one-sidedly condemn the French even though they naturally assume the role of the executor, but she focuses on moments when these French soldiers reach an insight of what they are actually doing.
In this novel, a rhapsody of Algerian memories beginning in 1830, is constructed as a musical piece with choir, theme, some solos and a small leitmotiv. Again she has chosen to give voice to women’s experiences. She cannot identify with men, something she explained in her last book Ett fängelse så stort (Vaste est la prison). But women are also agents in Algerian history – they crushed the sculls of their babes rather than handing them and themselves to the conqueror, they lined, fed, and dressed the partisan army and they even joined the battles and suffered the same torture as men. But I can sense a purpose behind Djebar’s story, a painful insight that the war of liberation is not the big and decisive battle. Victory for the « people » surely meant independence, but it also marked the beginning of another kind of slavery for women.
Algeria ruled by those who struggled for independence is certainly not a paradise. The « great novel about Africa » (as the publishing house calls it) contains a very complicated relationship to imperialism and to the wars. Because Assia Djebar explains suddenly that she was born in 1842, the year when the French officer Saint Arnaud destroyed the sacred tombs of her tribe Beni Menacer. How? In the moment when her tribe was humiliated? Yes, because it inaugurated a process that meant she would later be able to escape the harem and write in her « stepmother tongue », French, while her French cousins were doomed to carry the veil and exist in the shadows, even in French Algeria.
Does this mean imperialism is good? One has to be careful and not jump to conclusions: Assia Djebar seeks to discuss democracy and the possibility of the individual. The land that now is Algeria does not have many heroes from the past. Djebar mentions Numidic kings Massinissa and Jugurtha – the latter, strangled during the Roman republic, had reasons to become a martyr. (Someone might remember his name from Latin exams in school). However, Algerian authors are known all over the world, since they are part of a great culture. Saint-Augustine wrote his confessions in the world language of his time, appropriated by Algerians over five centuries of Roman occupation, the 14th century historian Ibn Khaldoun, to this day admired as a great classic in Algeria, had his chance under the Arab empire. Assia Djebar wants to identify with these Algerians. It’s their memory who gives her hope and they are role models that are easily accessible. Citizens of the world that come from the same coast and the same mountains as she does.
« The voice of raped Algeria », Daniel Andersson, Nerikes Allehanda, 2003
The novel starts when the French Armada appears outside the Algerian coast in 1830. Soon occupation is a fact and a « rape », as Djebar puts it, that will last 130 years awaits the people of Algeria.
Stories emerging from history and from individual voices hidden in the shadows and silences of history appear in the novel as differing fragments. These voices often come from women but also from men who would otherwise never have had the chance of being heard. Connected to more or less autobiographical stories, these different narrative pieces create a mosaic; a crucible that bears witness of a country’s struggle for freedom, but also of new forms of oppression that would follow after independence eventually was reached.
In the long run, this way of connecting fragments appears as an attempt to express and represent the abstract thing we call « History » or even « Life ». What defines what we call « individuality » or « community »?
Djebar certainly does not raise easy questions in her novel, but she raises them without unnecessary complication and without being ungraspable. More concretely, the theme of the novel touches the sense of being put together by two cultures, in the case of Djebar North African and French, and of being split between tradition and modernity, between subjugation and revolt.
But the most interesting point is perhaps the problem of language that is ever present in the first person narration. […]
Kärleken, kriket is a great novel about a very dark period in the history of Algeria, but also about a kind of hope that never seems to leave oppressed people. This is a book for everyone who asks why we are the way we are, what determines our existence, and what it means to be part of history. And above all, it is a book about those whose voices we rarely listen to, the voices that are silenced by tradition, military tyranny or patriarchal oppression.
« A mosaic made of love and war » Lena Kvist, Smålandsposten, août, 2003
Kärleken, kriket (L’amour, la fantasia) is the second novel to be published in Swedish. Last year Leopard Publishing published Ett fängelse så stort (Vaste est la prison) which is, together with Kärleken, kriget one of the novels in Assia Djebar’s quartet on Algeria. It was written in the 1980s, that is to say, long before the latest bloody civil war. Assia Djebar was born in 1936, but also in 1842, when Saint-Arnaud smoked out her forefathers in a cave. Every single human being has a heritage that goes from generation to generation, shows Djebar.
In Kärleken, kriket she varies clear and sharp observations filled with facts about battles and historical events, and more personal stories. Some of them are constituted by Algerian women’s experiences of the war of liberation, which finally lead to independence in 1962.
« A War novel written from the heart » Björn Svenssen, Tranås Tidnig, août, 2003
Assia Djebar’s last novel, the first one to be published in Swedish, Ett fangelse så stort was warmly received by critics and she is nowadays regarded as one of the most prominent African authors and a constant candidate for the Nobel Prize.
Even though the realities of war are described in detail, this is not an ordinary war novel. There are no heroic acts or grand victories and as a consequence no heroes. Instead the novel is like a documentary that only someone who has experienced the war can create. Assia Djebar gives her voice to all of those who, every day all over the world, become the anonymous victims of war, and those who read this novel will without any doubt reach some kind of insight. »