March 24, 2009

The Malediction, by Rachid Mimouni

Rachid Mimouni's La Malédiction is an intense and poignant tale of love and hedonism, hatred and fundamentalism, revolutions and fate.

Two generations, two revolutions. The FLN and the Islamists. The ones who were "terrorists" for the French but are now the heroes of the Algerian nationalist movement. And the ones who waved the Koran to have their turn and would carry out the worst attrocities without hesitation in the name of God and his Prophet.

Written in 1993, two years into what became Algeria's "black decade" of civil war, Rachid Mimouni's text is at once a patchwork of tales told in the style of Naguib Mahfouz: with irony and wit, castigating corruption and glorifying love; a thriller set in the context of the islamist revolt; and an indictment of fundamentalism prefiguring Youssef Chahine's 1997 movie, Le Destin.

We follow Kader, an obstetrician who works at the Mustapha hospital in Algiers. His brother Hocine went missing while living in France with his wife, banned from their homeland. No one in the family knows whether to believe the French police when they say they found his body. Kader made the trip to identify the body and comfort his sister-in-law but he cannot stay: he needs to return to his elderly mother and his patients in the hospital.

Algiers is in the midst of violent Islamist demonstrations and in a matter of days, the hospital is the hands of the zealots. Kader is barred from providing care to his patients and obliged to submit their medical records to the new masters who want to expel unmarried mothers right away, whatever their health - they are shameless sinners indeed.

But this doesn't prevent Kader to meet every night Saïd, the lawyer-turned-truck driver, Rabah the deserter, Nacer the tuberculous believer and Palsec, the orphan, to listen to Si Morice, a picturesque character, telling them the tales of love and war of his younger days when he fought for the independence.

La Malédiction was Rachid Mimouni's last novel. He fled Algeria for Paris when the book appeared and died two years later.

Leaving to the wise Si Morice the closing words, talking about the fight for independence:
The justness of a cause does not have the immanent virtue of preserving us from injustice. On the contrary, our belief in being in our good right often leads us to being less watchful. And thus the drifting starts.

In the original:
La justesse d'une cause n'a pas l'immanente vertu de nous préserver de l'injustice. Bien au contraire, la conviction de notre bon droit a souvent tendance à nous rendre moins vigilant. Ainsi commencent les dérives.

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