Algerian-French academic and author Zahia Rahmani has written fiction, memoir, art history, and cultural criticism. Her France, Story of Childhood,translated by Lara Vergnaud, was published by Yale University Press in 2016, and her genre-tweaking Muslim, translated by Matt Reeck, won a Hemingway Grant to support its publication in English late last month:
Five grants were awarded to publishers in 2018’s first session, and they range from $1,000 to $3,000. Matt Reeck’s translation of Muslim is scheduled to come out from Deep Vellum in February 2019.
The other recipients are:
- L’Eté 80 et autres textes, written by Marguerite Duras and translated by Emma Ramadan and Olivia Baes
- Plume, written by Henri Michaux, translated by Richard Sieburth
- All That is Evident is Suspect, written by the OuLiPo and translated by Daniel Levin Becker
- La Femme aux pieds nus, written by Scholastique Mukasonga and translated by Jordan Stump
Muslim: A Novel is the second short autofiction in a loose trilogy dedicated to outcasts and Others, which began with Moze (2003), continued with Musulman (2005), and ended with France récit d’une enfance (2006).
The book is restless, always on the move, struggling forward. It shifts between child and adult, belief and different belief, realism and fantasy, France and places of the imagination. Welcome nowhere. The narrator comes to awareness when she arrives in France at five, her family having been forced to leave Algeria, as her father had fought for the French colonial army:
Coming to France was my father’s fault. He’d been banished from Algeria. Banished like so many others had been, and like so many more would be. Banished, stripped of a name, a soldier of the colonial army, a traitor to his country. They were the banished, the silent participants of the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Algeria, Iraq and elsewhere, the comrades of the losers of these wars, waiting to drag their shame home. That was my father. He was one. Otherwise, he wasn’t my father. He was only the man who had impregnated my mother.
Exiles and separations are multiple, and “Muslim” is at times less a religious identity than one of Otherness:
How have I lived these past days? Everyone wants me, everyone condemns me. “Are you one of theirs?” “No.” “Are you one of ours?” “No.” Then you’re a Muslim!
But the novella is not just about being Algerian, or Muslim, but about coming to grips with life as an other in twentieth-century Europe. The book is short — less than 20,000 words — yet it takes us through a multitude of twentieth century horrors.
As you wait for the February 2019 release, read Act I: The Night of the Elephant, tr. Matt Reeck.