Yasmina Khadra ‘Morituri’


—There are two hundred yards from my block of flats to the garage where I park my car. Before I covered them in a few strides. Today it’s an expedition. IMG_1287Everything seems suspicious to me. There is danger in every step, sometimes I’m so scared I think of turning back.
The caretaker is a good man. He feels sorry for me. To his way of thinking I’m as good as dead.***


If you watched and liked the recent thriller ‘Cairo Confidential ‘ by Tarik Saleh then now is the moment to go back in time to Khadra’s Morituri (Those who are about to die) set in Algiers in the early 1990’s during the Algerian civil war and published in French in 1997. Behind the name Yasmin Khadra hides Mohammed Moulesouhoul who was an Algerian army officer and wrote under this pen name to avoid censorship.

In Algeria caught between corruption and Islamic fundamentalism, where the police are fair game, inspector  Llob is asked to find the rich powerful Ghoul Malek’s daughter, Sabrine (Ghoul’s name is a play on words meaning the Ogre). Not an easy task, I mean who would take the risk of being seen talking to a policeman, a dead man walking, and risk his life. As Llob pursues his enquiry, we learn that an ‘Abou Kalypse’ (apocalypse) is orchestrating the murder of famous writers and entertainers, well those that are left, they have always been fair game for the fundamentalists.

Khadra sets the scene, there is no hope such as here for instance:


—As of now, in my country, a stones throw from the point of no return, there are children gunned down simply because they go to school and girls who are beheaded in order to scare the others.***


As the enquiry advances further and one of his team is tortured to death by the terrorists after straying into a known zone at risk where his father had died, Llob tells us:


—We have become used to the terrorist’s inconceivable abjectness, they have been known to kill a mother with the sole purpose of ambushing the son the day of the burial and to kill a cop in order to mow down his colleagues come to pay their respects at his tomb***


This is a quick read and if you are looking for signs of hope, well there are some, for instance Llob’s partner, Lino, who is scared to inaction at the start of the book, when pushed to his very limits, lets his pent up anger pull him out of his stagnation.

First published in French as ‘Morituri’ by éditions Baleine in 1997
Translated into English as ‘Morituri’ by David Herman and published by Toby Press in 2003
*** My translation

Mohamed Kacimi ‘The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing’

MOHAMED KACIMI is a prolific Algerian playwright and novelist. His writings include 1962 and the autobiographic L’Orient après l’Amour. ‘The Day Nina Simone stopped Singing’ is the result of a meeting in a Paris theatre of Kacimi and “a shy young girl” Darina Al-Joundi who handed him an open letter to her father “who had dreamed of the greatest of freedoms for his daughter while she, precisely because of this freedom, would come to know the worst servility…She told (him) the story of her childhood, her wars, her drug habit, and her love affairs without any self-censorship.”This book is that story. This is the second book this year which I have read treating the war in Lebanon (Sorj Chalandon’s Quatrième Mur).

image

The story is a search for freedom against the background of the terrible war in Lebanon which gave rise to the radical religious groups and a disappearance of the space for personal liberties as well as the particular violence against women institutionalised and practiced by all of the religious groups in The Lebanon.

The story begins with the defining moment of the book, with Darina in agreement with her father’s wishes refusing to let religion become part of his funeral rite by turning off the cassette playing the Koran. “Suddenly I heard a strange voice that ripped through me. An intolerable cry that split my skull, pierced my skin: someone was wailing verses from the Koran. I flung open the door to the next room. It was filled with women in black weeping around a cassette player broadcasting prayers. I stepped over and on them, snatched the cassette player, and shut it off. The women shouted out in horror. My mother and my sisters tried to grab hold of me, shouting, “Stop that! You’re mad! Come back, this is not the time …” I ran to hide in my father’s room and double-locked the heavy oak door. I heard the men hollering, “You crazy woman, give back the Koran or we’ll kill you. Open up, you bitch, open up! One doesn’t cut off the voice of God. Open up, you bitch, if you so much as touch God’s Book you’re dead.”

How did we get to this situation, the book takes us from Darina’s fifth birthday and the powder keg that was Lebanon, “Beirut was a free city, the oasis of every Arab intellectual who in his own country was forced into silence. It was also the capital of the PLO, the Palestinians made the laws, and Beirut was their republic…….in Lebanon, we all know where we come from, to what community we belong, of which there are seventeen in our country; so are you Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Maronite? Even cats know to what religion their families belong, even a dog can smell whether his leash is held by a Greek Catholic or a Greek Orthodox.” Into this keg came Darina whose secular father brought her up with an ideal of personal freedom that would need fighting for and was maybe possible before the war.

Kacimi and Al-Joundi then lead us through the war years where because of the continual danger over so many years a complete disregard for personal danger and risk becomes the norm. We are introduced to the concept of a “house of surrender.” In Islam, when a husband lodges a complaint against his wife for desertion, the police forcibly bring her back and the husband can “tame her” by locking her up at home or in a stairwell. as well as the Christian version the priest informed me that the Church did not allow divorce, no exceptions made, but for ten thousand he might be able to make things easier for me…. a novice in a cassock who was to count the bills. As he waited for the result, the priest read the Gospel of St. Mark and when he heard the words “it’s fine,” he gave me a certificate of annulment without so much as a word.

The story then reaches the defining moment from the beginning of the book and the violence against women outside of wartime is illustrated, when after her father’s death she is physically beaten on the street and forcefully psychiatrically interned at her families request until she agrees to promise not to dance anymore, not to drink or smoke anymore, not to go out with men anymore, not to talk the way (you) did before. She finally leaves The Lebanon.

This book is published in English by The Feminist Press and should be compulsory reading in schools.

First published in French as ‘Le Jour Où Nina Simone a Cessé de Chanter’ by Actes Sud in 2008.
Translated into English by Marjolijn De Jager and published by The Feminist Press as ‘The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing’ in 2011