A Study of Land and Milieu in the Works of Algerian-Born Writers Albert Camus,Mouloud Feraoun,and Mohammed Dib
North African Studies S. No. 4
The Generation of '52 in Algeria produced three writers: Albert Camus, Mouloud Feraoun and Mohammed Dib, who represent three remarkably different perspectives on the Algerian land and milieu. Although Algeria is the birthplace of all three, what emerges from a close study of their depictions of the land and milieu is an understanding of their differing writing identities. In Noces and L'Ete, Camus excels at presenting the varied, often harsh lessons he has learned from the Algerian land: lessons of contrasts in the Algerian geography between sterile desert and fertile sea coast, between the blistering sun of midday and the cool peace of the evening, between Kabylian poverty and the rich beauty of the land. Yet, because of his status as a French pied-noir i.e. a person whose patrie is France but whose homeland is Algeria, he seeks to maintain an equilibrium between opposing dualities. Ultimately, Camus reveals a picture of a land in which he alone occupies the pivotal position. Thus, landscape can be understood to mirror and produce ontology. Mouloud Feraoun, a French educated Arab-Algerian, writes from a need to present his native Algeria to French readers.
His zeal to project an acceptable image to a French audience leaves no space for his own Algerianness in his text and consequently fails convincingly to present his own identity. Thus, his depiction of the land appears alienated from his identity as an Algerian writer. Mohammed Dib grounds his narrative in an unmediated portrait of his watan-- the Arabic equivalent to patrie. No apology or explanation for his "difference" is offered to his French readers. His unquestioning approach to Algeria effects a reconciliation of the inner and outer landscapes that comprise his identity. Dib's characters have an autochthonous quality mirroring and confirming the author's own deep roots as an Arab and an Algerian. In this continuum from the pied-noir's vision of his landscape to the Arab-Algerian's concept of watan, there is discerned a meaningful connection between land and identity. The author's reading of the position each author appropriated for himself in the land of his birth in the chosen Algerian pre-independence narratives, attempts to link the three sides of the Algerian trilogy of land, self, and writing.
For the Franco-Algerian writers, such an understanding is an important step in knowing the associations that brought divergent reactions to the same land by its colonizers and its colonized. Though time and space specific to the Algeria of 1950s, it furthers an appreciation of present-day reactions and counter reactions that may arise because of the dynamics of self and place. And, also of more importance, the present day (sometimes explosive) issues of self, culture and land in a rapidly changing multicultural climate of our world today.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"This critical study provides important insights into the works of three important literary figures who share Algeria as a homeland: Camus, Feraoun, Dib. Dr. Ahmad's study probes crucial issues of identity formation in the realm of Francophone studies as she qsks: what does the landscape mean for the colonizer and the colonized self? Her exploration of the early attachments to the Algerian land reveals significant differences between Camus, the son of Europeans in Algeria, Feraoun, the Berber of Kabylia, and Dib, the Algerian Arab of Western Algeria. Her study shows that each writer's "sense of place" is remarkably different because of the dichotomy between the experience of colonizer / settler. Professor Ahmad expresses this difference in terms of patrie, the French word for homeland and watan, its Algerian Arab counterpart. She concludes that despite Camus' profound links to the Algerian land of his birth, his lack of solidarity with both the European colonizer and the Algerian Arab and Berber populations resulted in continued alienation. The critic finds that Feraoun's focus on depicting his world for the European reader creates distance between his cultural experience and its textual evocation. In other words, Feraoun maintains an artificial equilibrium in a world dominated by European colonial forces. By contrast, she discovers that Dib portrays Algeria's land, milieu, people with authenticity and immediacy. Using the grid of spatial analysis, Fawzia Ahmad provides readers, students, scholars of North African literature with an excellent analysis of the early works of three extremely significant francophone writers who, each in his way, provides important insights into the Algerian colonial experience. I strongly endorse recommendation of this book." - Professor Mildred Mortimer, University of Colorado at Boulder"