Algerian Novelist Stars in the West Tale of Decolonization in North Africa Is One of Few Third-World Works to Be Published in US

By Howard LaFranchi, writer of Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 1990 | Go to article overview

Algerian Novelist Stars in the West Tale of Decolonization in North Africa Is One of Few Third-World Works to Be Published in US


Howard LaFranchi, writer of Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


RACHID MIMOUNI carries a plastic sack with several copies of the edition of his latest book, "The Honor of the Tribe," as if it contained nothing more precious than carrots or couscous.

The insouciance reflects the Algerian writer's lack of pretention, but it also belies the actual rarity of his diminutive cargo. For with "The Honor of the Tribe," Mr. Mimouni is scheduled to join the relatively slim list of third-world novelists to have their work published in the United States.

After making his mark with French readers, the development-economics specialist, son of Algerian peasants, is becoming known among Germans, Scandinavians, and Italians as well. The book is now in translation in the US (under the working title of "The Honor of the Tribe," the literal translation of the French title) and will be published by William Morrow in 1991.

Mimouni shrugs as these facts, impressive enough for a North African writer, are run past him. When the list of minor prizes the book has won is cited - a French prize for Franco-Arab friendship, a Swiss award honoring Francophone works, and a third award presented at this year's Cannes Film Festival for literary works adaptable to the screen - he gives in with a sheepish grin. "I guess I am something of a writer-star at the moment," he says. "The Honor of the Tribe," Mimouni's third novel, should be of interest to anyone who wants to understand what happened in the wake of the decolonization wave that swept across Africa 30 years ago, and why the promise of independence has turned to a malaise over lost identity and pilfered freedom. Though the tale is set in Mimouni's Algeria (the country is never named, but is identifiable through historical and cultural contexts), the suffocating bureaucracy and autocratic government that replace the society's traditional tribal rule could be in almost any African nation.

With so much world attention focused on Eastern Europe's dramatic sloughing off of communist regimes, the book provides a glimpse of the kind of egotistical and illogical one-party rule that students in Zaire, guerrillas in Liberia, and even Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria, are rising against.

Yet while it is the simplicity - dare one say charm? - and utter sensibleness of Mimouni's unbureaucratic Maghreb tribesmen that provide a moral counterpoint to modern third-world autocracy, Mimouni is not using his prose to plead for a reborn tribalism.

"It is not by accident that the character who renders justice in the end is a judge," says the salt-and-pepper-haired writer. The judge, too, is a product of the system that supplanted the tribes, but with a difference: "He is saying to the revolutionary-heroes-turned-bureaucrats, `That's enough of the arrogance of your system. It's time to install a system based not on men, but on the rule of law."'

Widespread rejection of Algeria's 28-year-old one-party rule peaked in multiparty local elections in June. The vote delivered a stunning blow to the entrenched National Liberation Front (FLN) and a surprisingly strong victory for the country's Islamic fundamentalists. …

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