Which Book Should Represent Algeria in ‘World Cup of Literature’?

Three Percent is hosting a “World Cup of Literature” pitting “all of the World Cup qualifying countries…against one another in a battle for world literature supremacy. (At least until the next World Cup.)”

Borrowed from Nadia Ghanem's twitter feed.
Borrowed from Nadia Ghanem’s twitter feed.

According to organizers:

  • The World Cup of Literature will be a 32-book knock-out tournament that will run around the same time as the actual World Cup. Obviously, our game schedule will be different, since we’re forgoing all that round robin stuff.
  • Stealing a bit from the Morning News Tournament of Books, each “match” will pit two books against one another and will be judged by one of our fifteen illustrious judges. … They’ll assign a soccer-like score and one of the two books will move on.
  • All fifteen judges will weigh in on the championship match.

What sort of book could represent Algeria in the tournament?

Again, organizer Chad Post: “I think the books we end up including in this competition should be fun, interesting, enjoyable, ‘readable,’ etc. So, in contrast to the BTBA [Best Translated Book Award] finalists, this could include more genre works and the like.” So, for instance, I imagine this means Habib Tengour’s poetry collection Crossings, trans. Marilyn Hacker, is out of contention.

Also: “And to keep in the World Cup spirit of young, healthy people running around athletically, we’d like to include books published from 2000 onwards. Keep it young!”

The most difficult requirement for “young” Algerian literature is the unspoken one: that the books be translated into English.

For instance, Algerian literary blogger and ArabLit contributor Nadia Ghanem suggested Chawki Amari’s Apres Demain. But that works only if the judges are reading in French. 

Possible contenders (from youngest to oldest):

Amara LakhousHis Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio,  trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, was written first in Arabic and re-written Italian (as he explains in this interview with Full Stop). So he could potentially play for Italy, but we will stand firm in claiming him for Algeria. Born in 1970, so still young enough to play a good game.

Anouar BenmalekHis terrifying Abduction,  translated by Simon Pare is an existential-detective tale, gripping from the first page to the last. (A review in The Independent.) There’s also his Lovers of Algeriatranslated by Joanna Kilmartin. Born in 1956, and also a contributor to Les Enfants de la balle.

Yasmina KhadraGallic books is bringing out his The African Equation next year, and they suggested his What the Day Owes the Night. But if we’re going for genre, then Khadra writes genre. For instance Dead Man’s Share. Khadra (Mohammed Moulessehoul) was born in 1955, so he could still play. He could also appear for France, but considering he joined the presidential race in Algeria, I think he’s pretty square-on for the Algerian side.

Aziz ChouakiHis The Star of Algiers was trans. from the French by Ros Schwartz and Lulu Norman. He was born in 1951,but he’s also a guitarist, and they’re forever young.

Rachid Boudjedra. His work is generally of the “high modernist” sort that Chad Post says the World Cup of Lit is eschewing, but I found his The Obstinate Snailtrans. Leon Stephens, to be pretty hilarious. All right, he was born in 1941, so I’m going in the wrong direction, but I’m sure he’s tough.

Assia Djebar is not on this list for the lack of a recent translation (Women of Algiers in Their Apartments was published in English in 1999), and she was after all born in 1936. Mohammad Dib (1920-2003) is not living, and his inclusion would seem to violate the spirit of the game. Tahar Ouettar (1936 – 2010), the “godfather” of Algerian literature, is similarly deceased, as is Kateb Yacine (1929-1989). Several Algerians have been longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, but none of their books have been translated into English. And no, I don’t think Ahlam Mostaghanemi would compete well.

Your suggestions? 

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5 comments

  1. Seeing how many of our football team players are selected, I’d say just go for any French author with some direct or less direct link to Algeria and who couldn’t play for France and enroll them in this competition under the Algerian flag…

    Seriously though, I cannot think of any candidate right now. The “translated into English” combined to “young” is indeed a tough one!

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  2. The criteria make this very tough. I agree that Ahlam Mostaghanemi wouldn’t come out of this too well but haven’t really thought of anyone else yet

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  3. I would like to suggest two Algerian authors:
    Rachid Mimouni whose novel L’Honneur de la Tribue has depth and a biting sense of humor
    Ali Ghanem, author of A wife for my Son(from the French: une femme pour mon fils) and The Seven Headed Serpent(Le serpent à sept têtes)
    Another author, Taher Djaout would also be a great choice.

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