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Representing the Algerian Civil War: Literature, History, and the State

  • Author(s): Landers, Neil Grant
  • Advisor(s): Sanyal, Debarati
  • Tlatli, Soraya
  • et al.

"Representing the Algerian Civil War: Literature, History, and the State" addresses the way the Algerian civil war has been portrayed in 1990s novelistic literature. In the words of one literary critic, "The Algerian war has been, in a sense, one big murder mystery." This may be true, but literary accounts portray the "mystery" of the civil war--and propose to solve it--in sharply divergent ways. The primary aim of this study is to examine how three of the most celebrated 1990s novels depict--organize, analyze, interpret, and "solve"--the civil war. I analyze and interpret these novels--by Assia Djebar, Yasmina Khadra, and Boualem Sansal--through a deep contextualization, both in terms of Algerian history and in the novels' contemporary setting. This is particularly important in this case, since the civil war is so contested, and is poorly understood. Using the novels' thematic content as a cue for deeper understanding, I engage through them and with them a number of elements crucial to understanding the civil war: Algeria's troubled nationalist legacy; its stagnant one-party regime; a fear, distrust, and poor understanding of the Islamist movement and the insurgency that erupted in 1992; and the unending, horrifically bloody violence that piled on throughout the 1990s. Alternating close readings with deep contextualization, I examine how the novels conceptualize the civil war within Algerian history, then propose a reading of the novels themselves by drawing out their positions in relation to each other and to the civil war.

After a general presentation in the first chapter, Chapter 2 offers a reading of Boualem Sansal's Le serment des barbares, a novel that presents the larger themes of the dissertation: the distortion of public memory; the difficulty in narrating the civil war; the mythification of history; and the role of the state in contributing to violence in Algerian society. Chapter 3 follows the paths proposed in Sansal's novel by considering the novel's claim that the popular understanding of the war of independence is largely a myth, and that insidious but important episodes of that struggle were deleted from history. Chapter 4 examines the treatment of the civil war in Yasmina Khadra's Les agneaux du Seigneur, an enormous commercial success that frames the civil war as a noir genre fiction of terror and crime in a village outside Algiers. Chapter 5 examines the discourse used to discuss the civil war, and focuses specifically on the rhetoric of state discourse. Chapter 6 reviews the basic political context of the civil war and what is known about the violence itself. Chapter 7 examines the role of political Islam in Algeria, since this is a crucial element of the civil war and its treatment in the novels. Chapter 8 considers the civil war in the depiction of Assia Djebar's Le blanc de l'Algérie and synthesizes the dissertation's major themes.

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