Yasmina Khadra: My new novel, The Righteous, is the culmination of 50 years of writing
The Algerian writer told Asharq Al-Awsat that some consider him a traitor just because he writes in French
Tuesday – 9 Rabi’ al-Awwal 1444 AH – October 04, 2022 AD Issue No. [
Paris: Anisa Makhaldi
Yasmina Khadra is the pseudonym of the Francophone Algerian writer Mohamed Mouleshoul. He worked as an officer in the Algerian army for years before dedicating himself to writing, which he started at an early age. He wrote more than twenty-five novels, the most important of which are: “The Assault”, “The Swallows of Kabul”, “Embassies of Baghdad Warning” and “The Preference of Night over Day”. His works have received a wide audience, especially in France, and have been translated into more than 30 languages, some of which have been adapted for cinema. He has also won several awards such as the Grand Prix “Henry Gal” and many other awards. His latest novel, “The Righteous”, was well received by critics, and created the event for a French literary entry. We had this dialogue with him in the French capital, Paris, on the occasion of the publication of this novel.
> Your new novel, “The Righteous”, paints a picture of an unknown era in Algeria’s history during World War I, between 14-18, where we get to know a poor family that has nothing but the love that unites its members. How did the idea for this novel come to you, and why this title?
– The idea of this novel dates back to more than ten years, when I wrote an introduction to a series of drawings for young people about the Algerian snipers who participated in the First World War, known as “Turkish snipers” (in relation to the irregular Turkish and Arab forces formed by the French in Algeria since 1830). At that time, there was no archive of these soldiers who were forced to engage in a war that did not concern them. It was then that I wanted to write an important novel on this subject, but I waited until I had the strength to transcend everything I had previously written to merit such a subject. I can say that “The Righteous” is the culmination of fifty years of writing and the result of continuous perseverance. As for the title “The Righteous”, it refers to the simple and beautiful characters of the novel, full of sympathy for each other, who, despite their poverty, remain generous and sympathetic.
> You said regarding the novel “The Righteous” that it is one of your most important works, from what side?
For the first time, critics unanimously agreed, however, that I have written works that have been read around the world, have influenced millions of readers, inspired filmmakers and playwrights, and in some places suffered from malicious attacks and misinterpretations. With the novel “The Righteous” everyone agreed that it is my most important work. Personally, I did not wait for the critics to announce this, and I had said this during my tour in Algeria last July. When I finished the last page of my novel, I was convinced I had crossed a new threshold. All writers have a favorite work, for me the work closest to my heart is my last novel, The Righteous.
> What about the character of “Yassin Sharqa”, the protagonist of the novel, can we say that he resembles you a little?
The hero of the story, Yassine Charaka, embodies the suffering of the Algerians under the yoke of colonialism. He is a poor twenty-year-old shepherd, who lives in a miserable village at the beginning of the twentieth century, does not care about what is going on around him, and one day the sheriff of the village summons him to send him to France to participate in the First World War 14-18 instead of someone else, in exchange for promises he will not are fulfilled. Upon his return from the war, Yassin lives in hell, bravely facing thanks to his faith and the purity of his soul. Through the plight of this young man, the plight of an entire people is narrated.
> We all know the stage of the liberation war that the Algerian people fought, while we do not know much about the historical era that you narrate in your novel? Can we talk about it?
I wrote this novel to better understand this period that shaped “Jazairi” today. And I can’t sum it up without spoiling the story, which is full of plots and unexpected events.
> The battle scenes are astonishingly accurate. Was your experience as an ex-army officer your inspiration?
– Without a doubt, the eight years I spent fighting terrorism that almost destroyed my homeland allowed me to get close to the human element. I know to what extent this being called “human” can be cruel and savage, and in the end all wars are similar, they are failures Common sense, moments of madness, the height of terror and folly, wars are proof that men are horrible beasts who see that there are issues more important than her life, her children and her relatives.
> Yassin’s character represents a very forgiving person, so can we forgive others in everything? For example, what happened during the colonial history between Algeria and France?
– I am only a citizen among others, I have no right to speak on behalf of a people who have been subjected to the scourge of fate, and we cannot erase the trauma of 132 years of colonialism, enslavement, misery and suffering in one fell swoop, but we can be reborn in a better world, until we prove to ourselves that our martyrs did not die from Nothing. In this context, I prefer to talk about “reconciliation” rather than forgiveness between France and Algeria.
> Dedicating this novel was to your mother, who wrote: “To my mother, who was not good at reading and writing, but she inspired me in this work.” We also note a strong presence of the father’s character in the novel, so to what extent was the influence of your parents in your literary career?
My mother occupied an important place in my life. Her character is central to my autobiography, for example (the writer or the kiss and the bite) and if we don’t see her often in other novels, she is constantly present in the narrative evocation. As for my personal life, as a reminder, I was entrusted to the military establishment when I was nine years old. It was not my parents who guided me to the path of literature, but the cruelty of treatment and the need to restore myself in spite of all adversities and hardships. Literature, for me, was my refusal to be a pawn on a chessboard, a badge on a compulsive scheme.
> You previously stated that you decided to become a writer in French when you read a work by Albert Camus, while your dream was initially to become an Arab poet, so what does Camus mean to you first? Do we expect you poems in Arabic?
– The influence of the Algerian writer Malek Haddad Ali was greater than that of Camus. It is true that I dreamed of becoming a poet like Al-Mutanabbi, but I did not receive any encouragement from the teachers of the Arabic language. This reactionary mentality prevents our two geniuses from growing in the eyes of the other. However, literature does not depend on language, but on the word, talent, ingenuity and generosity, otherwise how can I explain that the largest number of my readers in Africa is not in the Maghreb, but in Chad.
> In your novel, you talk about the absurdity of the first war, this war that is now at the heart of the event. Do you think that the writer should live the experience of war (as is the case with you) before writing about it?
Many authors have written about war without a uniform, walking in mud and in trenches, or even firing a single shot. However, they called her an adorable talent and truth. The writers have that imagination that allows them to reveal the secrets and decipher the codes related to the narration of the sorrows and joys of humanity, its failures, its splendor and its tragedies. Fortunately, the book exists to remove clouds from us and invite us to think and discover, and Gustave Flaubert was right when he said that everything we create becomes reality.
> Your novel is also a beautiful hymn to love through the story that unites Yassin with Maryam. What can this tell us about the human need for love? Can he save us from the horrors of war?
Love gives real meaning to our lives. He rescues us first from ourselves, rediscovers us in adversity, then brings us back to ourselves, but He is still as fragile as our weakness. War bothers him, distorts his symphony and submits to false slogans, when men understand where their own interests lie, they will give up war in order to live their full happiness. She wrote in “Angels Die of Our Wounds”: “There is no battlefield like a woman’s bed.”
> You are a writer known for your abundance of literary production, what is your secret?
Writing is a gift from God, I cannot explain it, I only work to be worthy of it.