Rachid Boudjedra: التطليق (La répudiation) (The Repudiation)

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If your view of Algeria is coloured by the standard Western presentation - a monolithic repressive and repressed Islamic society - then this novel might change your perceptions. The narrator of this novel - Rachid - is a young Algerian telling his story to his French girlfriend, Céline. He is brought up in an extended family. While his father, Si Zoubir, conforms to our stereotypes - he is patriarchal, dominant and cruel - Rachid's environment does not. He is essentially brought up by and with women and in an atmosphere charged with sex. He sees it happening (he catches his father in the act) and indulges in it himself with young cousins. Women, of course, are repressed. Rachid's mother, when she is too old, is shunted aside as his father finds a fifteen-year old wife. But it is not only sex that we are surprised to find but non-Islamic religion, particularly a sort of rustic sorcery widely practiced and believed.

But Rachid grows up and his growing up coincides with the Algerian revolution, in which he plays his part. At first, it is as a child but then as a man. But Boudjedra is more interested in the activities of the Clan, a secret mafia-like group with which Si Zoubir is associated and which aims at control. Rachid falls into their hands and is kept prisoner but, surprisingly, released, maybe through the influence of Céline (though she returns to France) and he recovers in hospital.

Boudjedra's concern is about the violence and the repression in his country - the image that we in the West have of Algeria. But his response is the world in which we see him - a world of sexuality, a dreamlike world, a world where Islam is an external form and not the real religion and this is the world we do not see in the press reports of Algeria

Publishing history

First published in French 1969 by Denoël
First published in English 1995 by Three Continents Press

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