“In the bad wind”: Kaouther Adimi, the shadow and the image

Kaouther Adimi, in Paris, June 16, 2022.

“In the bad wind”, by Kaouther Adimi, Seuil, “Fiction & Cie”, 272 p., €19.

In September 1972, a “evil wind” from the Sahara covers Algiers with red dust. While adults fear it carries traces of French nuclear testing, the sand serves as a canvas for children to draw suns on car windshields. Thus delicately introduced, the incipit is swept away by a scene showing Saïd B., the author of “greatest Algerian novel”, start a meeting in a bookstore. Saïd B. summarizes the plot of his book: the trajectory of characters from the same village, El Zahra, caught up in the torments of contemporary Algeria. A flight of paragraphs later, we see the protagonists of Saïd B.’s novel, Tarek and Leïla, fleeing Algiers in disaster, after realizing that they figured in the book. They feel dispossessed by Said, their lives destroyed. The narrator then takes hold of the author of the “greatest Algerian novel”and tells what Tarek and Leïla were like.

The luxury of a Roman villa

In the bad wind recounts a century and three wars – the Second World War, the Algerian War of Independence and the beginning of the civil war (1991-2002) – in less than three hundred pages. Kaouther Adimi’s short sentences depict characters, plant and unplant the scenery nimbly. We wouldn’t see anything. Before being surprised that each scene finds an echo further on or with the whole of the work of the author born in Algiers in 1986 (in particular stones in my pocket and Our riches, Threshold, 2016 and 2017). If the question of the power that a writer arrogates to tell the life of others constitutes the driving force of his novel – “Is that what we call literature? Is that what great men do? Take the lives of little people like us, and put them in books? And U.S ? What are we becoming? », exclaims Leïla – the author is careful not to decide. Ambivalence completely occupies him. It starts with the title of the first chapter, “The Writer”, which can refer as much to Saïd B. as to the mysterious narrator who drops the mask on the last page. In her hands, she holds a snapshot of the meeting in the bookstore. In addition to Saïd B., we see the photo of Leïla on the cover of the novel and the shadee “a little blurry” of Tarek, who came to attend the meeting before decamping without a word.

Giving a voice to this shadow and this image, such is the object of Kaouther Adimi’s novel, divided into two parts, “Tarek” and “Leïla”. The first grew up as Saïd’s foster brother. He is his extreme opposite: silent, swarthy, destined to become a shepherd, when the other is a ” master ” fair-skinned Arabic speaker, a future world explorer sent to study in Tunisia. Between them, there is Leïla. She was the intrepid friend, before being married too young to a very old man, whom she has the courage to divorce at the risk of being rejected by everyone except Safia, the elder and the memory of the village. In 1941, Tarek and Saïd were enlisted; the beautiful Leïla, whom Tarek dreamed of as the incarnation of “the Algeria of tomorrow”rest.

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