While sex, drugs and pizzas have been stable story elements in Algerian novels over the past decade (for pizzas, read Chawki Amari), a prominent place given to smoking seems relatively new to me in our fiction as far as my readings go. Algerian novelist Fatma Zohra Zamoum has given an amusing and original twist to this ever present, highly enjoyed, and deadly social activity:
By Nadia Ghanem
How I smoked all my books (Comment j’ai fumé tous mes livres) is initially the story of a young woman who works in publishing and quits. After a bitter break up during which her partner accuses her of not having the courage to live the life of the authors she admires, she (who remains unnamed) leaves her current post, and becomes a part-time market researcher. Now she has just enough time to write and income to pay the bills except one, her cigarettes. The only solution available to her to remedy this vital lack of funds is to sell all her books at the local second-hand bookstore, and give up her personal library dearly and expensively acquired. Her book-against-tobacco trade sets a natural deadline to her writing project. She will have to have completed her story by the time all her books are sold.
So she begins smoking literature, commenting on works and authors, following the temporal and spatial ordering of her shelves. Will she be able to write her novel during the timeframe she set herself? Will her books provide her with enough tobacco fixes or will she have to seduce the bookshop owner to smoke his stash?
Zamoum’s story nourishes two long-standing discussions on the act of writing. What is the place of literature in our world and our lungs, and what is needed to become a novelist, other than a publishing company? Is writing a talent inborn or learned? Does it only require words, an original idea, a muse, paper? Some would say whisky, Zamoum reemphasizes reading, a lot of reading, and an equal amount of tobacco.
Fatma Zohra Zamoum is a novelist and filmmaker. How I smoked all my books (Comment j’ai fumé tous mes livres) is Zamoum’s second novel. It was first published in 2006 by La Chambre d’écho editions in France and was reedited by Chihab editions in Algeria in 2015.