Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Tongue's Blood Does Not Run Dry-Assia Djebar

The Tongue's Blood Does Not Run Dry-Assia Djebar

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 215
gender: F
nationality: Algeria
year: 1997
short stories, in translation

"What happens when catastrophe becomes an everyday occurrence? Each of the seven stories in Assia Djebar’s The Tongue’s Blood Does Not Run Dry reaches into the void where normal and impossible realities coexist. All the stories were written in 1995 and 1996—a time when, by official accounts, some two hundred thousand Algerians were killed in Islamist assassinations and government army reprisals. Each story grew from a real conversation on the streets of Paris between the author and fellow Algerians about what was happening in their native land."

So these based-on-truth stories are tied to classical Arab literature such as Book of One Thousand Nights and Day and the Berber songs sung by the people of Mzab. This gives the stories such a sense of place that history and narrative get tied up into this musical mix.

Women are the main truth of this book-they are the glue that brings these stories together. The women are, for the most part, strong voices set against backgrounds of anxiety and repression. I adored the variety of types of women. Some of the stories are set in Algeria and have this palpable sense of anxiety. Some of the stories are from abroad and those are tinged with loss. I have to say, it was not easy to read this book. I took breaks between stories because the atmosphere created was so thick. That is not to say the atmosphere was always oppressive-Djber writes in the fine tradition of her country's literature with a directness mixed in with the metaphors. The stories linger on in your mind long after you've started a different narrative.

My favorite story was the novella Felicie's Body. Felicie was a French woman who adopted Algeria as her own. When she dies, this staunchly French Catholic woman is forced to take a Muslim name in order to be buried next to her Algerian husband. In this simple plotline, Djebar is able to explore the labels placed upon us, memory as an active agent, love, and the difficulties of being astride multiple countries and identities as well as the challenges faced by the children of 'mixed unions'. What could have been a rather heavy story is sprinkled with dry humor as it meanders to its finish.

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