Algerian novelist Assia Djebar — frequently mentioned as a Nobel Prize contender and one of the “immortals” of the Académie Française — has died in a hospital in Paris:
According to Algerian state radio, Djebar — whose given name was Fatima Zohra Imalayène — will be buried in her native Cherchell, where she was born in 1936.
Djebar wrote novels and short-story collections striking for their wide historical sense and their fiercely female focus. They included: The Thirst, Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade, A Sister to Scheherazade, So Vast a Prison, Algerian White, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment and The Tongue’s Blood Does Not Run Dry. She also wrote poetry.
She moved to France to study at 18. There, began her life as a bearer of many “firsts” when she became the first Algerian woman to be admitted to the country’s top literary university, the Ecole Normale Superieure. She published her first book in 1957, at just twenty-one.
Dejbar, like many Algerian authors, was criticized for continuing to write in French after her nation’s independence. When wondering why Djebar hadn’t won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the French paper Le Figaro suggested that the fact that she didn’t write in her “mother tongue” was one of the reasons. Although she never wrote in Arabic, she did study the language, and attempted to use French to “reproduce Arabic rhythms.”
In a 2010 interview, Djebar said that she writes “against erasure”:
In some of my earlier books (So Vast the Prison, Algerian White, etc..) memory was often the first impulse to write, or rather the sudden urgent need to record the spontaneous testimony of someone close … Because a sudden fear seized me of seeing this shard of life, this moment of real life – with its grace, or the hollow of despair in an anonymous story, yes, sometimes fear grips me that these fragile moments of life will fade away. It seems that I write against erasure. Most often, in this flow of a past life, of desperate or brilliant experience, illuminating, a spark, shy at first, then hardened obstinacy makes me say: “this must be fixed, this should not plunge into the night, into oblivion or colorless indifference! This need to inscribe: at least it doesn´t matter if it’s me who takes the pen, or some other suddenly arising to whom I could pass the lightning glimpse (pain, rebellion, or short joy) …
She won a number of other prestigious prizes for her writing and cinema including the International Critics’ Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1979, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1996, sometimes called the “American Nobel,” and the Frankfurt Peace Prize in 2000.
In 2005, Assia Djebar became the first woman from the Maghreb to become an “immortal” — or life-long member of the prestigious Académie Française.
Works available online:
Algerian White — Excerpt of the novel in English translation