Originally published in French as Oran, Langue Morte, this collection of seven short stories was written during the bloody events of the mid-1990s when some 200,000 Algerians were brutally murdered by Islamists and by the government army. Teachers, journalists and leftists were particular targets.
In the superb “The Woman in Pieces”, a young French teacher retells Scheherazade’s story from One Thousand and One Nights about the mysterious death of a woman found cut into pieces. Soldiers assassinate the teacher in front of her class, cutting her throat. The new “woman in pieces” continues her story.
The violence during the Algerian War of Independence against the French also left its mark on the characters. “Felicie’s Body”, tells the life story of a dying French Catholic woman, happily married to an Algerian for 50 years, seen through the differing thoughts of her children.
Djebar really makes you feel the conflict of identity for émigrés. In the words of her son Armand/Karim, “But you see us divided, each with our two first names, our two countries (which to disown, which to adopt?), our two religions absent or in the background.” Felicie’s husband was “a nobleman when he spoke his mother tongue and a worker from the lowest class when he went over into French”. Arabic, Berber/Kabyle, French – language is still a conflict zone in Algeria today.
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