The black work from Boualem Sansal

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Since his first novel, published two decades ago, the Algerian Boualem Sansal has built from book to book a work of radical disagreement. Anger and creativity are the hallmarks of this fiction, which realistically testifies to the social, political, religious and economic drive of modern Algeria. In his new novel entitled Abraham or the Fifth Covenant, which just came out this fall, Sansal rewrites the Bible with its plot in the modern Middle East. Portrait of an epic storyteller imbued with Kafka, Solzhenitsyn and Camus.

“I do not know why we feel invested in a word, that is, we gradually manage to make the difference between me Boualem Sansal, who lives in Boumerdès, and Boualem Sansal, a writer who said things that have been listened to. to, approved or rejected, who does not like. Suddenly we are in a debate. We are no longer ourselves. Doncon continues the debate … “.

So says Boualem Sansal, a leading figure in contemporary Algerian literature. He is a writer who is invested and deeply engaged in the struggle against sectarianism and religious obscurantism that threatens his country. Sansal has been writing for years. of the Islamist rage that set Algeria on fire and blood, making its own the creed that his colleague Tahar Djaout said, prophetically, before being slaughtered by the Islamists: “If you speak, you die, you do not speak, you then speak and die ”.

Brave death and censorship, writes Boualem Sansal. He did not leave his country, unlike thousands of Algerian intellectuals, whom the tyranny of military and religious fundamentalism threw on the roads of exile.

Anger and creativity

The man was 50 when his first novel, Le Serment des barbares, appeared in France. He had sent his manuscript per. Post to the Gallimard editions, the only French publisher whose address he knew. Based on a double detective plot told in a dense and inventive language, Sansal gives a realistic account of the social, economic and religious operation of his country. It is a book accusation against the rise of religious extremism in Algeria, but also against the political elite working with the Islamist monster to continue to benefit as long as possible from its prior and human trafficking. all kinds to get rich.

This first novel sets the tone for Boualem Sansal’s black work. This work is today rich in ten novels and vitriolic pamphlets against Islamism and Algerian power. Anger and creativity are the hallmarks of this writing of total disagreement. Ignored and even censored in Algeria, the Algerian work is regularly praised by international critics for its subversive power, which has earned him many prestigious awards.

A multi-award-winning author, Sansal received the prestigious German bookseller’s Peace Prize in 2011 for his novel Le village de l’Allemand (Gallimard), which compared the massacres of the Algerian civil war in the 1990s to the delusions of Nazism. A topic that is particularly controversial in Algeria, where the author again hit the headlines five years ago by publishing 2084: The End of the World (Gallimard), an apocalyptic tale of expectation that is part of the Orwellian lineage. to imagine the fate of tomorrow’s world under the leadership of a barely disguised Islamist theocratism.

Back to the Bible

The author has just released a new opus this fall titled Abraham or the Fifth Alliance. An ambitious and scientific book that rewrites the Bible with the advent of a new provided man, a copy of the patriarch Abraham from Genesis. Why Abraham?

“When humanity really knows extremely serious problems, and which it can not do anything about, the solution is to educate a God, a prophet who will alleviate suffering,” the author explains. Abraham arrived at a time when the Middle East was the site of relentless imperial wars. And blah, we bring up a legend based on a man who brings a new truth. Me, I imagine that today is in a somewhat similar situation. We are only talking about world war, global warming, which will destroy humanity, epidemics, famine. There is this temptation to create a new utopia, a new legend. “

Abraham tells an updated version of the biblical patriarch’s Odyssey. We leave the ancient world 4,000 years ago to the turbulent Middle East in 1916 and beyond. Placing his plot in a geopolitical context deeply disturbed by World War I and entering the place of Western powers eager to establish their supremacy in the East on the ruins of the ruling Ottoman Empire, the novelist Abrahams imagined reincarnation. renewal of a new covenant with God, as the prophets of the three monotheisms had done before him.

The ambition with this modern avatar of the patriarch imagined by Sansal is to find a new utopia, the only one capable, according to the protagonist, of pacifying humanity. Will he succeed in achieving his ambition? This is the question that is at the heart of this parable about the power and weaknesses of the religious thought that unfolds on the pages of this new opus.

Camus, Mimouni and the Civil War

Having entered the literature late, Boualem Sansal had never thought of becoming a writer. Born in colonial Algeria in 1949, into a modest family, he grew up in Algiers, in the Belcourt district, not far from the house where Albert Camus’ family lived. After the author’s own admission, if he admired Camus much in his youth, it was because of his accomplishments on the football field and his many female conquests. Admiration for his literary work comes later.

Boualem Sansal conducted scientific studies. He is an engineer by education, a doctor of economics, he was in turn a teacher at the university, business manager and then a senior official at the Algerian Ministry of Industry. Before becoming the great novelist we know, the man was best known for his theoretical writings on economics and his dissertation on turbojets. “But I have always read a lot,” he likes to say. A tireless reader of world literature, from Camus to Ionesco, including the Russians and Latin Americans who have nurtured his reflection on the world, could he remain unresponsive when civil war and Islamist terror came down? about his country?

“When the Civil War arrived in 1991, our entire universe collapsed,” the novelist complains. It was click. I felt the need to write, to bear my testimony as a senior official, an executive, a less bourgeois. But literature is scary. That’s the blank sheet’s anxiety. The click was made, but it was only a few years before I started writing on the advice of my friend Rachid Minouni. ”

For two decades, Boualem Sansal has been writing for the benefit of his loyal readers, whether they are in Paris, Berlin or even in Algiers or in Constantine, where his books have been circulating, it seems under cover, progress despite censorship. official who affects a large part of his work. It is described as “dishonest” by religious extremists and “lavish” by lovers of great literature.

Abraham or the Fifth Covenantby Boualem Sansal. Gallimard Editions, 288 pages, 21 euros.


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