miércoles, 7 de octubre de 2015

Le village de l'Allemand ou Le journal des frères Schiller

Le village de l'Allemand ou Le journal des frères Schiller (Folio, 2014)
by Boualem Sansal
Algeria, 2008

As my first selection for the 2015 Argentinean (& Algerian) Literature(s) of Doom, Boualem Sansal's heralded Le village de l'Allemand ou Le journal des frères Schiller [a multiple prize winner inaccurately rendered into English as The German Mujahid in the U.S. and An Unfinished Business in the UK--way to honor the author's intentions, publisher clowns!] was just about everything I could have hoped for in terms of a novel delivering a full payload of in your face doom.  Put another way, it's maybe not all that surprising that Sansal's novels have been banned in his native Algeria the last 10 years or so.  Told in asynchronous diary entries by Algerian-born German-Algerian brothers Rachel (Rachid-Helmut) and Malrich (Malik-Ulrich) Schiller whose lives as Parisian banlieusards take permanent turns for the worse after they learn that their parents have had their throats slit in a terrorist massacre perpetrated by the GIA in the rural Algerian village of Aïn Deb in 1994, the work is a desperation-ridden affair which takes successive descents into the maelstrom once the older brother learns a secret about his father's past so traumatic that he himself eventually takes his own life over it.  The skeleton in the closet?  The father, a German expat who had become something of a hero during Algeria's war for independence against the French and who died a respected village elder after his conversion to Islam, was once a member of the SS.  To Sansal's credit, the contours of this plot are just a starting point for the novel's examination of evil and of Algerian expat life in France.  Philosophically, one of the most arresting things about Le village de l'Allemand is the manner in which the Schiller brothers bluntly equate Islamist violence with that of the Nazis; in a single conversation with a young friend, for example, Malrich describes Hitler as "l'imam en chef" ["the Imam in chief"] of Nazi Germany and rails against the "Gestapos islamistes" ["Islamist Gestapos"] who have set up shop all across France.  His specific warning?  What happened in World War II could happen again if fundamentalist violence isn't stopped in its tracks--the threat of which is evident from the present day examples of Kabul and Algeria, where "les charniers islamistes ne se comptent plus" ["the Islamist charnel houses are legion"] (147).  Writing wise, the prose lives up to the challenge presented by the downer subject matter with attacks on the Islamist presence in the French banlieues such as the one in which a local religious leader is characterized as "leur führer" ["their Führer"] and his teachings as "les dix commandements du kamikaze" ["The Ten Commandments of the Suicide Bomber"] (93) and conversational riffs on the ubiquity of violence in human affairs--"l'histoire de ce monde" ["the history of this world"] (42)--and, well, ditto--"Ce que je veux dire, c'est que la mort exprime mieux la vérité des choses que la vie" ["What I mean is that death conveys the truth about things better than life"] (159-160).  That being said, another less pessimistic strength of Le village de l'Allemand is that, all the heavy duty stuff notwithstanding, Sansal seems equally at ease describing relatively drama-free characters like tonton [Uncle] Ali and tata [Auntie] Sakina: the adoptive parents of the Schiller brothers who as "des émigrés qui sont restés des émigrés" ["emigrants who remained emigrants"], "vivent en France comme ils avaient vécu en Algérie et comme ils vivraient sur un autre planète" ["live in France as they had lived in Algeria and as they would live on another planet"].  In other words, "braves gens" ["good people"] who don't ask much more of life other than a place to sleep and "de temps en temps des nouvelles du bled" ["from time to time some news from the bled"] (97).  Fascinating stuff.

Boualem Sansal

8 comentarios:

  1. A brave writer, from what little I know. I'd seen this book around bookshops in France, and the ArabLit blog just yesterday posted about Sansal's new novel, an update of Orwell's 1984.

    I do wish publishers would leave these titles alone; I've been thinking about writing a post about that very thing after recently encountering a fairly egregious title translation mishap, in an American edition of an Italian book, which bore the traces of a meddlesome marketing department.

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    1. I suspect I'll want to read Sansal's complete output at some point, but this was a pretty great introduction to his body of work for now. A brave writer indeed. I hope you do write that post on title meddling; this novel's titles aren't particularly attention-grabbing or anything, but anything as bland as An Unfinished Business can only be seen as a great disservice in the translation department. Perplexing!

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  2. American and English writers keep flogging World War II to pump their fiction full of significance. Maybe they should learn something about Algeria. Algerian writers do not, at this point, have that problem. I wish they did.

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    1. Sansal's equation of Islamist violence/crimes with Nazi violence/crimes was certainly a fresh take on the World War II angle, but of course I agree with you that the Algerian civil war of the 1990s is a recent enough horror that there's no need for Algerian novelists to resort to World War II flogging to pump up the "significance" of their works in the style of the Anglo writers you mention. Still, I like the novelist's quote from a World Literature Today interview from 2012: "I make literature, not war.... Literature is not Jewish, Arab, or American. It tells stories to everyone."

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  3. I really like that quote from Literature Today. I think that we can insert en entire list of groups into it and it would still be true.

    The book itself sounds really good. A good choice for your "Literature of Doom" series :)

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    1. Sansal's book was indeed "really good" and even better than I'd expected; unfortunately, his humanist outlook--as manifested both in the novel and in that World Literature Today quote--apparently didn't win him many friends back home where he was attacked for being a crypto-Jew and other such inanities. Whatever, he's a fine writer.

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  4. Sansal is an excellent writer and I agree that this book is an excellent introduction to his work. And yes, it is annoying to see that the title of a book is mistranslated or intentionally changed for marketing or whatever silly reasons.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Thomas, and welcome to the blog. Is there another book by Sansal that you'd care to recommend? If so, feel free to recommend one--I hope to read another novel by him soon! Cheers!

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