Looking at the Longlist: Amin Zaoui’s ‘The Goatherd’

Algerian novelist Amin Zaoui writes both in Arabic and in French; obviously his novel The Goatherd, longlisted for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) was submitted in Arabic:

The-Goatherd-by-Amin-ZaouiZaoui has switched back and forth between writing in Arabic and in French. His Arabic novels include his first, The Neighing of the Body (1985), The Tremor (1999), and Satan’s Road (2009) and his French La Soumission (1998); Haras de Femmes (2001); Festin de Mensonges (2007) and La Chambre de la Vierge Impure (2009).

His Festin de Mensonges was translated by Frank Wynne as Banquet of Lies and published by Marion Boyars a year after the French edition appeared; his only work thus far in English.

Zaoui was born in “Berber country,” near the Moroccan-Algerian border, during the Algerian war for independence.

BanquetofLiesZaoui attended university in Oran, and, in the words of interviewer Rajae Nami (in Arab Studies Journal), “lived through Oran’s cultural renaissance, in an atmosphere of highly charged confrontations between Arabophones and Francophones and between the political left and Islamists…. Already the names of some promising young talents in literature and art were being heard: Zaoui, Waciny Laredj (also longlisted for this year’s IPAF), Amar Belahcen….”

Zaoui left Oran in 1995 after numerous death threats and relocated to France. There, he wrote in French, often returning to the landscapes of his childhood. But like Rachid Boudjedra and Kateb Yacine, Zaoui has continued to switch between writing in Arabic and French (neither his mother tongue, as Nami points out).

Zaoui himself said: “I am a nomadic writer, a wanderer. Freedom is my only country.”

Researcher Farida Abou-Haidar has described Zaoui’s writing as a ” flowing variety of standard literary Arabic” and added that, “What Zaoui and other writers of Arabic expression, among them Waciny Lârej and the late Amar Bellahcène, have in common, however, is their use of an individually fashioned secular language.”

Zaoui has tended to write more intimately of women than of men. His 2012 novel, The Goatherd, is no different, according to IPAF organizers:

The events of the novel take place beneath the dome of a mosque, which is given different names by the Arab and Amazigh Berber inhabitants of the city. It follows the lives of three beautiful French Catholic women who decide to embrace Islam, each with a particular motivation: the first sexual, the second cultural and the last to spy on the Muslim community.


In engaging narrative style, somewhere between history and fantasy, The Goatherd portrays the destructive effects of the relationship with ‘the Other’, and exposes dealers of religion in an Arab world sunk deep in corruption and the culture of hypocrisy.


Zaoui’s Facebook page

Guest article: Kit Maude on translating and editing ‘Banquet of Lies’.