Harraga by Boualem Sansal



Harraga by Boualem Sansal

Algerian Fiction

Original title – Harraga

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – review copy

Out of my Algeria
they made the prisons taller
than the schools.
They sullied the nocturnal roots
of the People,
the serious Tree
of the remote Berbérie…
They denied the certainty of our Land,
they tore apart Islam, its color,
its fantastical tribes, even the shame
that makes them live.
They denied the Vital Fire, our Flag
They exiled the humble joys of our huts
slow at the return of corn…
Blind! Blind!

Well I had hope to get this book last week as it is one I feel we all need to read .Boualem Sansal  had a government job in the  early 2000’s til he start complaining about the government , his books since then have been critical of Algeria in particular how the vast money made from Oil is being spent and in this book womans rights .Boualem Sansal still lives in Algeria as he says the his country needs artists to pave the way to peace and democracy .He has won many awards and written six novels .He is one of the strongest critics of his country’s regime .

This is how a whirlwind sweeps into your life .Nothing absolutely nothing in my past led me to suppose that one day i would open my door , open my life to such mayhem .I opened the door because that’s hat you do when someone knocks , you answer .

Lamia just after Cherifka arrives at her door and the effect she has on her life .

Harraga is the story of two women , Lamia , who up to now had lived a quiet life behind the wall of her house , just living in her own world and Cherifika a 16-year-old unmarried pregnant girl arrives in the middle of the night at Lamia ‘s door , she was sent to her by Lamia brother Sofiane .Sofiane is also the inspiration  for the title the only member of Lamia family left alive he is a Hararaga , some one trying to escape Algeria for Spain across the sea .Meanwhile the two worlds of Lamia nad Cerifka start to clash , Sherifka is having to lay low but is struggling to do this in a way she is  a new woman wanting to be equal wanting to be heard but this is dangerous for a girl with child that is unmarried could be killed for Honour .This is what Lamia is trying to do ,whilst seeing the world anew through this young girls eyes making this meek woman who maybe is an example of what woman have been in Algeria she gets stronger .As the two woman adjust to each other and the world outside .

Cherifka is bored .I’ve noticed that she’s become less voluble , less frivolous , she is brooding , preoccupied serious .I scarcely recognised her .She is like a caged bird that has forgotten how to sing , to splash in its bath , to hop and skip for joy – a joy it can scarcely remember , one too distant and to fleeting to gladden the heart .

Lamia sees how being held up in the house is affecting Cherifka , these lines remind me of the lines of Maya Angelou in a way .

This is in some ways a classic odd couple story , the pair Lamia and Cherifka in some ways to me reflect the two faces of woman in the modern Arab world Lamia has hidden herself and in her own way is a romantic living behind a wall in her own world with ghost but not really living as she has settle for the life she has .Cherifka is the modern girl wanting to live , having a boy before being married , wanting to be seen and heard in a world where woman should really be meek like Lamia .Boualem Sansal has lifted the veil on being a woman in Algeria , but not just that through Sofiane and his trying to leave Algeria he has shown the problems in the country a country rich in its own world with oil money but only for the few .Then there is the house and the city t,the house has itself been part of Algeria and its history and through these two woman is seeing another turn in the country’s history .I know Frank the translator really hopes this book gets a wider readership because its writer has a voice that needs to be heard , silenced  in his own country even here this book hasn’t really got the coverage a work of its quality and insight needs .


Have you a favourite book from Algeria ?

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. hastanton
    Dec 09, 2014 @ 09:07:41

    I am going to get this when over in Paris in NY. As I think I told you I read Le Village De L’Allemand recently and it was totally mind blowing . A brave author who is not afraid to speak the truth however uncomfortable .


  2. Col
    Dec 09, 2014 @ 10:34:31

    I am pretty sure I’ve never read a book from Algeria before but I admire the courage and determination of the author you’ve described here so I will make this my first step into reading Algerian fiction


  3. Mytwostotinki
    Dec 09, 2014 @ 13:18:06

    That sounds interesting, Stu. I enjoyed his Village of the German (An Unfinished Business) a lot, reviewed it also. Other Algerian authors I read and like are Yasmina Khadra, Assia Djebar and Rachid Boudjedra (The Repudiation).


  4. biblioglobal
    Dec 09, 2014 @ 17:02:44

    I just added this to my reading list. I struggled a lot with the one Algerian book I’ve read- The Women of Algiers in their Apartment.


  5. 1streading
    Dec 12, 2014 @ 20:55:43

    This is the kind of novel that I probably wouldn’t pick up but your review has made me take notice – have added it to my list of books to get hold of next year.


  6. Suad Ali
    Dec 13, 2014 @ 15:52:52

    My favorite new novel is Khawla’s Wall by Andrew Khaled Madigan. He’s an Arab-Anglo-American man who thinks and writes like a Muslim woman (I know this is a contentious statement, but still). The book is about Dubai (where I come from), the economic development of the Gulf, the condition of South Asian labor, the conflict between tradition & progress…there are stunningly beautiful descriptions of life in ’60s UAE. Reminds me of Mahfouz, Greene, Kafka, Theroux, and esp. Mohammed al-Murr. Is anyone familiar with Madigan’s work? What about al-Murr, the Emirati short-fiction writer? It’s a shame he isn’t better known outside the Arabian Gulf.


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December 2014


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