Modern Middle East Literature

A Blog for English 497/Gender Studies 480 at Boise State University

Name:Dr. Marcy /مارسي Newman / نوما ن
Location:Amman, Jordan

Friday, April 01, 2005

Comparing Terror and Terrorism

Both "Wild Thorns" and "The Lovers of Algeria" depict torture and terrorism. I'm wondering what people think about the differences in the way that the authors approach these issues. Also, I find fascinating that the protaganists of this book are a husband and wife primarily while the two in "Wild Thorns" were male cousins. Does this shape your empathy for the characters at all differently? It does for me. I think about Anna and Nassreddine losing each other but also their children and the mother/mother in-law, losing themselves in the fractures of a country and the mere privilege that many take for granted in choosing to love whoever you love without fear of punishment. If you try to draw parallels between these depictions of loss, Usama and Adil lose land and power in their society (eventually Usama loses his life but is this loss or is it as he saw it, sacrifice?) There are so many incredible parallels between the books, such as the issue of responding to direct oppression and the threat of terror with the threat of terror and violence and self-oppression. There are also places in which the two books are quite different. I feel the graphic depictions of torture in "The Lovers of Algeria" far more than the prison experiences depicted in "Wild Thorns" and yet both occur in prison.

Last, I wanted to unpack the words terror and terrorism. In this book, the lines of friend and foe are deeply blurred which makes it even harder to slip into easy categories of obviously good and obviously evil. It is so incredibly powerful how dropping into this crazy world through the eyes of a character can reveal so much about how terror is really not something so simply defined or understood. Anna and Nassreddine are pushed to breaking points of loss and suffering in a space pushed to breaking points of loss and suffering. What I wonder is why it has to get to that point that people feel justified and make justifications for their right to use violence to control or destroy others. Just thinking of the word "occupy" in the context of this book and reading what happens to Nassreddine and to Anna and to think about how many other people this happened to and still happens to, makes it impossible for me to hear or say that word and not shudder.
I wonder too how does a place or a person recover from being that broken?


Taryn Schwilling said...
I have also spent some time comparing and contrasting Wild Thorns and The Lovers of Algeria, especially why The Lovers of Algeria had so much more of an emotional impact on me. Unfortunately, I think it may be partly due to the fact that Anna was a foreigner and I suppose in the back of my mind (though I hate to admit it) I see her as more innocent. Also, I can connect to Anna’s character in a way that I simply couldn’t with Adil and Usama because I am so far removed from the Palestinian struggle.

The notion of viewing someone foreign as somehow less innocent in a situation such as the one in Algeria is ridiculous, of course, because Nassreddine isn’t any more to blame or any more involved than Anna. Also, as a foreigner, I suppose Anna is more aligned with the French and their ruthlessness than Nassreddine is. And in that context, Nassreddine would be more aligned with the FLN or AIS or GIA…both connections I am annoyed at myself for making and in my heart I don’t think I really buy into them.

I agree with Jen that the love between Anna and Nassreddine renders the situation all the more vivid and painful. Also, the way in which Benmalek isolates his characters is of interest. Anna, Nassreddine, Jallal, Jaourden…such an unlikely group of people who are drawn together one unifying factor: they are alone in the world. In a situation where fear drives family members to turn their backs on one another and neighbors to spy on neighbors, these four characters risk their lives for one another. I suppose this is what I found so painful and beautiful about the novel, the idea of strangers coming together in such horrible circumstances. Did the rest of you feel similarly? I’m curious how the rest of you dealt with the foreigner/native concept as well.
3:01 PM  
jen said...
I hadn't even thought of the "foreigner as more innnocent" aspect. It's a fascinating insight you're drawing from the story though. How does it work when a foreigner is an occupier by proxy?
By racial privilege? A sort of accidental colonialist?

I think the book (and you, with this post) draws an interesting tension between foreign/foreigner and the assumption that all foreigners are bad,oppressive and aggreeing to their government's colonial ambition because Anna's character stands in direct opposition to this. The mere fact of her falling in love with Nassreddine and going to his country and losing him and their children and their mother in law and RETURNING long after their murder makes it more difficult to see her negatively or as part of an oppressive system but is she by virtue of being foreign born and visibly and religiously different?
This same tension is acting out now in parts of the world, particularly with regard to foreign policy and the reaction to it. Fantastic point Taryn!
4:45 PM  
tparten said...
This conversation about Anna being a foreigner, and thus our emotional connection to her, is interesting as well as central to the novel. I think Benmalek chose to incorporate her in his novel to provide us with a view of contrasts and similarities. Although Anna is European she’s had to endure injustices in her own country as well as another. And, although Benmalek provides us with horrific descriptions of torture, he also carefully constructs a narrative that disaffirms any preconceived notion we may create that all Algerians hate Europeans. Like Khalifeh, Benmalek gives us a total picture- Not everyone is out to hurt Anna, in fact, many people in her hotel grow to like her. Jallah even imagines that she really is his grandma.
The relationship between Anna and Jallah is interesting because they’re socially deemed to be opposites, yet their “histories” are similar. Anna is an old Swiss woman. Jallah is a young Algerian boy. Yet, they’re both alone in the world and they’ve both been effected by the terror of postcolonial Algeria. Pairing these two characters together provides the novel with an amazing humanistic aspect. Amidst the slitting of throats and street side shootings, an unexpected relationship has formed. Although it is clear that Jallah agrees to travel with Anna for the money, he grows to care for her much more- and the same goes for Anna.
12:27 PM  




Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The ending of The Lovers of Algeria

I was wondering what you all thought of the end of The Lovers of Algeria. I find it interesting that the novel ended with Jaourden and Jallal. Jaourden was introduced relatively late in the book, and his character changed so significantly at the arrival of Jallal and when the group traveled south. I think it's interesting that the title is The Lovers of Algeria, and the book almost exclusively deals with the lives of Anna and Nassreddine and their relationship. Then the end puts them together and then focuses solely on Jaourden and Jallal.
What do you think Benmalek was trying to do with that? Is it simply hope for the future? A fresh start? Looking toward future generations? I'm not sure really. I liked the scenes with J. and J. but I'm not sure how they really play into a book about reunited love. I think the character of Jaourden is really fascinating. When he first entered the story, I thought he was this feeble, weak old man, impotent to help his wife. I kept expecting him to die or run off or something. Then, when they go to Biskra and Jaourden changes into his customary clothes, he becomes this romantic warrior figure, and like a father to Jallal. The land and the life are described so beautifully, so peacefully. I feel like there's some important message in it all, and I'm missing it.
Any thoughts?


jen said...
Maybe the "lovers" really are the many different lovers of Algeria itself or the many ways in which love is expressed. Love of land that feeds conflict but also sacrifice and a sort of community in the face of constant turmoil?
Love of tradition that tears families apart such as after the sister is raped and then beaten for not having protected the family honor? Love of nations and love that goes beyond the boundaries of nations and the borders of broken bodies such as with Anna and Nassreddine?
I don't obviously know but those are my thoughts. I think "the lovers" really refers to all of Algeria's "lovers" and that Anna and Nassrreddine's relationship is the lens through which the greater struggle for love is viewed. I was thinking too though as far as genre goes, could this be considered a romance novel? Perhaps not in the Harlequin style but it does remind me just a bit of the book "The Squatter and the Don." Just a bit. It also reminds me of "The Lover" by an author whose name escapes me at the moment. Think about it...sure it is rare throughout the course of the book that ten pages go by without a slit throat or a rape but the ongoing and undying love of Anna and Nessreddine certainly reminds me of what you'd expect in romance novels. I wonder if Benmoulek was setting out to write a romance novel with the backdrop of colonialism and war or if he was setting out to write of the unbreakable spirit that love nurtures despite the many ways a land and a body and a people can be broken by colonialism and war. What do you think?
10:38 PM  
Marcy / مارسي said...
Perhaps thinking about your earlier post, Heather, the one about home, might give you some insight into why the novel ends with Jallal and Jaourden. What do they represent in terms of the future of Algeria? What does this particular type of relationship offer? Renewal? Hope? A sense of home--or a new kind of home?

Dr. Newman
12:51 AM  
tparten said...
I like Jen's response about what Benmalek might have meant about using "lovers" in his title. Sure he gives us a story of "lovers in Algeria" but, the way I read the story is that the relationship between Anna and Nassreddine is meant to frame the bigger picture- the “lovers of Algeria.” The horrors Benmalek depicts is strangely framed by the Algerian’s love for their country. Isn’t that the context even the FLN operates upon? Strangely, this love, a passionately destructive love for one’s country is reflected in bloodshed and rape- things we see as hateful acts, not acts of love. How can this be explained? Or is it just as inexplicable as what causes us to love? I can’t explain exactly why Anna and Nassreddine love each other, based on the text, nor can I explain what would incline a person to execute another with a chainsaw. What Benmalek does provide us with is extremes: love as sensual and undying, as well as love as destructful and perpetuating... On another note, I’m not sure what to think about the ending. At first I was alittle annoyed that Anna didn’t take Jallah, yet, as Marcy and Jen note, perhaps Jaourden’s adoption of him is meant to symbolize a hopeful future.
1:32 PM  
Micaela Young said...
I am also particularly fascinated with how the author explores the idea of love in "Lovers of Algeria." I have to say that I disagree with a previous post in that it is a romance novel of sorts, considering the nature of love (for country, self, spouse, etc.) is complex, and often devastating for the lover, as opposed to idealized and romantic.

Perhaps this author is using a realism of sorts to describe what love is to the human being. In my opinion, realism is the only tool we can use to describe love.

There is the example of the two circus performers who have a conflict after one of them injures himself in an accident. The two lovers are described as "protected by their love" (99). Strangely, despite the apparent strength of their love, the lover Adrian shoots his wife when she complains about finding another job. The speaker in the novel says, "Love is death, two figures insanely reckless, flying between a pair of trapezes and ending in a fall, for no reason..." (100).

This description of love works equally well with that of a people and their country.
Loving your country and being a "good patriot" should be enough, but as we see with characters like Anna and Nassreddine, it is not enough. They must constantly live in fear of being marked a traitor. They must constantly evade persecution, torture, and death. Yet, they do not leave the country, or at least for an indefinate amount of time.

Just like with a lover, memories, feelings, and identity are all tangled up in one's country. So, despite the fact that Anna is in grave danger while returning home to her country, she feels compelled to do so to reconnect with her past. There are many other examples of this complex relationship with characters, such as Jallal and his "mother" the dangerous garbage heap, and the two wives, Zehra and Aldija. After reading this novel, and thinking about my own life, I can agree (hopefully without sounding too dramatic) that love truly is death.
12:28 AM  
Micaela Young said...
This post has been removed by the author.
12:45 AM