Looking at the Longlist: Waciny Laredj’s ‘Lolita’s Fingers’

Waciny Laredj (واسيني الأعرج) is one of two Algerians on this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) longlist. Previously longlisted for the IPAF in 2011, for his The Andalucian House, Laredj is here this year for Lolita’s Fingers.

wacinyContrary to reports (really), Lolita’s Fingers is not about a French perfume:

Al A’arag told the Poetry News Agency that he gave his novel this name simply because one of the main characters in it is called Lolita.

Laredj (Laradj, al-A’raj, al-A’arag) was born in 1954, just before the eruption of the French-Algerian War. He wrote novels — his first, Notes on the Sufferings of a Man who Ventured to the Sea, was published in 1981 — and worked as a professor of modern literature at the University of Algiers. He remained there until 1994, when the country’s civil war forced him to re-settle in Paris.

His most recent work focuses on Algerian and Arab intellectuals first under dictatorial regimes, then dogged by fundamentalist movements, and finally in exile. According to IPAF organizers:

It demonstrates that fleeing your country and going into exile is not always a means of escape from surveillance and secret services, since Western countries began to use the same methods against Muslim writers after the events of 11th September 2001.

At a 2012 literary salon, held in Tunis, Laredj said that his works have “received a lot of caustic criticism as some see them as replete with digressions, boring, and discouraging when it comes to the continuation of discovering the rest of the events.”

Also, at a recent symposium on “The Arab Spring through the Eyes of Arab Novelists,” told the audience, according to poet-blogger Ali Znaidi, that writers should “express that which others do not, and to be rebels in an exceptional situation. “Now everyone speaks about the revolution,’ said al-A’raj, ‘but nobleness is to say something that the others do not say. Besides, the space of democracy is of paramount importance in boosting the literary work, but the writer must not wait until he/she will be provided with such a space.'”

Laredj has also won other literary prizes, including the Algerian novel prize in 2001 and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award in 2007.

A number of Laredj’s works have been translated into French and published by Actes Sud; most recently Les Fantômes de Jérusalem. As for English, an excerpt of Laredj’s Sayedat al-Maqam (Lady of the Tomb) was published in Banipal 5 but is not available online.

Biography of Laredj:


Goodreads reviewers:

Are divided on the book’s merits