Benmalek, Anouar 1956-

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BENMALEK, Anouar 1956-

PERSONAL: Born 1956, in Casablanca, Algeria; immigrated to France.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Editions Fayard, Librairie Arthème Fayard, 75, rue des Saints-Pères, 75278 Paris Cedex 06, France.

CAREER: Novelist.

MEMBER: Algerian Committee against Torture (cofounder).

AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Rahid, for The Lovers of Algeria; Prix R.F.O. du Livre, for The Child of an Ancient People.

WRITINGS:

Cortège d'Impatience: Poésie et Prose (collection), Editions Naaman (Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada), 1984.

(Editor) La Barbarie: lettre à Madame Simone de Beauvoir, que Feraient Bien de Lire M. Claude Lanzmann, M. Bernard-Henri Lévy, M. André Glucksmann et autres, (nonfiction), Entreprise Nationale du Livre (Algiers, Algeria), 1986.

Ludmila, ou, Le violon à la mort lente (novel), Entreprise Nationale du Livre (Algiers, Algeria), 1986.

L'amour loup (novel), Harmattan (Paris, France), 1994.

Les amants dé Sunis (novel), Calman-Lévy (Paris, France), 1998, translation by Joanna Kilmartin published as The Lovers of Algeria, Garywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 2004.

L'enfant du peuple ancien (novel), Pauvert (Paris, France), 2000, translation by Andrew Riemer published as The Child of an Ancient People, Harvill (London, England), 2003.

Chroniques de l'Algérie amère: 1985–2002 (nonfiction), Pauvert (Paris, France), 2003.

Ma planète me monte à la tête: historiettes à hue et à dia pour briser le coeur humain (poems), Fayard (Paris, France), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: An Algerian expatriate living in France, Anouar Benmalek has earned a place as a respected novelist chronicling the suffering of his homeland, and a human-rights activist struggling to end that suffering. Two of his prize-winning novels have been translated into English.

The Lovers of Algeria provides a sweeping introduction to Benmalek's concerns. According to Harvard Review contributor Kathleen Rooney, "not only has Benmalek given us a vividly written, fabulously plotted, and well-paced story, so too has he given us the opportunity to examine the harrowing history of a country about which many of us know precious little." Divided into three sections, the novel shows the oppressiveness of French colonialism, the brutal fight for independence under the Algerian Liberation Front, and the Islamic fundamentalist terrorism that has plagued the country in more recent years. At the heart of the story are the two lovers: Anna, a Swiss trapeze artist, and Nassreddine, an Arab villager who comes to Algiers in hopes of finding work. When Anna is abandoned by her circus during a Pan-African tour, she meets and ultimately marries Nassreddine. What begins as a love story becomes a tragedy as vicious bigotries from all sides lead to the violent deaths of their children and the forcible separation of the couple. Only after many decades and the death of her second, Swiss husband, does Anna decide to make a perilous journey to Algeria to see the graves of her children and if possible to reunite with Nassreddine. "Vivid language and striking metaphors bring the landscape to life, and temporal shifts establish a punishing distance between the characters as they search for one another," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. For a Kirkus Reviews contributor, the novel is "sometimes overly melodramatic, but, still, a solid, engaging, and agonizingly brutal piece of work."

The Child of an Ancient People explores many of these same themes of prejudice, oppression, and brutality, but in a different time and place. Set in the 1870s, the story brings together three characters who are violently uprooted and find themselves in a land far from home. When Kader, an Algerian prince, leads an uprising against the French, he is captured and sent halfway around the world to the colony of New Caledonia. About the same time, Lislei, a poor Frenchwoman, is arrested during the suppression of the workers' uprising known as the Paris Commune, and also shipped to the colony. The two escape together on a ship bound for Australia, but first the ship lands in Tasmania and picks up Tridarir, the "child" of the title. The last of the aboriginal Tasmanians, Tridarir is actually not a passenger but part of the cargo, seen as a prize to be put on display for money. When the ship reaches Australia, the three escape and spend much of the rest of the novel evading recapture, battling the prejudice they find all around them, and overcoming their own mutual antipathies and their own racism. As a reviewer noted in the Melbourne Age, "Benmalek's big idea, the one he explores in all his writing, is the universality of human suffering, and he often plays this out across language and cultural barriers."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Age (Melbourne, Australia), September 7, 2003, "Anouar and the Aborigines."

Entertainment Weekly, August 13, 2004, Louisa Ermelino, review of The Lovers of Algeria, p. 95.

Harvard Review, December, 2004, Kathleen Rooney, review of The Lovers of Algeria, p. 165.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2004, review of The Lovers of Algeria, p. 547.

Library Journal, August, 2004, Sofia A. Tangalos, review of The Lovers of Algeria, p. 63.

Publishers Weekly, July 5, 2004, review of The Lovers of Algeria, p. 37.

Southerly, spring, 2003, Andew Riemer, "Language, Culture, and the Perils of Translation," p. 51.

World Literature Review, summer-autumn, 2004, Eric Sellin, review of The Lovers of Algeria, p. 81.

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