Mokeddem, Malika 1949–
Mokeddem, Malika 1949–
Born 1949, in Kenadsa, Algeria; immigrated to France, 1997. Education: Studied medicine in France.
Les hommes qui marchent (title means The Men Who Walk), Editions Ramsay (Paris, France), 1990.
Le siècle des sauterelles, Editions Ramsay (Paris, France), 1992, translated and with introduction by Laura Rice and Karim Hamdy as Century of Locusts, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2006.
L'Interdite (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1993, translated by K. Melissa Marcus as The Forbidden Woman, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1998.
Des rêves et des assassins (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1995, translated and with an introduction by K. Melissa Marcus as Of Dreams and Assassins, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 2000.
La nuit de la lézarde (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1998.
N'zid (novel), Seuil (Paris, France), 2001.
La transe des insoumis, Grasset (Paris, France), 2003.
Al-Mutamarridah, al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (al-Dar al-Bayda), 2004.
Mes hommes, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 2005.
Also author of Al-Mamnurah: Riwayah.
Malika Mokeddem was born in 1949 to a nomadic family in the oasis settlement of Kenadsa, Algeria, which hovers on the border of Morocco. Among her ancestors, she counts members of the Doui Menia tribe, a mixed-race group of Saharan nomads. In 1997, she immigrated to France, settling in Montpelier and studying medicine. Eventually, Mokeddem became a specialist in kidney disease, but literature and words called out to her and she began to write as well, choosing to use the language of her adopted nation. Her roots and her early upbringing, however, still flavor her novels, which are set in the deserts of Algeria. She uses her novels as an opportunity to critique the policies and prejudices of her homeland, particularly the heavily patriarchal leanings of the society, but they also express a sense of longing and homesickness for the life she left behind. In addition, she analyzes the changes that have been forced upon the Doui Menia in recent years as they have been made to conform to a more urban lifestyle, and how technology has intruded upon the more traditional ways of life, making many of them all but obsolete. Mokeddem has written a number of novels, several of which have been translated into other languages, including English.
In Les hommes qui marchent ("The Men Who Walk"), Mokeddem addresses the period during the mid-1950s and 1960s when Algeria struggled to gain independence from France, addressing the issues from the point of view of women. She follows one family to show how both a grandmother and her granddaughter react to the changes in the country, both politically and culturally. The resistance that these women show reflects their feelings about both the patriarchal society in which they live and the overbearing patriarchy that is French colonialism. The grandmother, Zohra, is the keeper of the family's traditions, a storyteller who knows the history of the family and is able to pass it down through the stories she tells that incorporate the myths and legends of their people, as well as personal experiences. Leila, her granddaughter, serves as a modern contrast, a young woman who seeks out education and rebels against the more old-fashioned beliefs of the patriarchal figures in her life, opting to push for a more modern way of life. Mildred Mortimer, in a review for World Literature Today, praised the book, stating: "An important new voice in Algerian fiction today, Malika Mokeddem writes with insight as she bears witness to Algeria's struggle for an open society in which women enter public space freely, opposing views can be expressed, and the violence attributed to Islamic fundamentalist extremists finally ends."
Century of Locusts, which was originally published in French as Le siècle des sauterelles, entwines two separate stories, each of which strongly reflects Mokeddem's own personal experiences. The first of the tales is about Mahmoud, a Bedouin man who lives by the law of the desert. When his wife, a black woman called Najma, is brutally raped and murdered, and his daughter Yasmine, a witness to the attack, falls mute due to the shock of what she has seen, Mahmoud sets out to find a way to extract revenge against those guilty of perpetrating the crime. At the same time, he must find a more tangible way to help his daughter return to her former self. In an attempt to break through her silence, he teaches Yasmine how to write. When he goes after the men responsible for his wife's murder, he leaves his daughter with a group of nomads for protection, and encourages her to use her newfound skill to write stories in his absence. Yasmine's story is very much one of a woman discovering the limitations of a patriarchal culture. It is within the shelter of the nomadic tribe that she discovers what is considered a proper occupation for a woman, and the rebellion she feels against the demeaning treatment and work that is given to women within the tribe acts as a force to enliven her spirit. Brinda Mehta, writing for Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, remarked upon the book's cultural example that "gender imbalances in terms of work are sustained by the cultural belief in women's unilateral care-giving capacities that invariably subsume them under the onus of maintaining communal honor and welfare." Deborah Donovan, in a review for Booklist, called Century of Locusts "a gem, brimming with beautifully rendered scenes," as well as "a luminous and evocative carpet ride over dunes and oases."
In Of Dreams and Assassins, published in French as Des rêves et des assassins, Mokeddem tells the story of Kenza Meslem, a young Algerian professor who leaves her home and her job teaching French in the wake of a failed love affair, but also because life for female intellectuals has become increasingly difficult in the changing social and political climate. Beyond these reasons, however, she is following in the footsteps of her long-lost mother. Kenza's parents divorced when she was young, and according to Algerian law, her mother lost all rights to her daughter as a result. She fled to France where she later died, leaving Kenza to be raised by her father. Once in France, Kenza searches out a woman there, whom she knew to be a friend of her mother's, in order to learn the truth of her mother's last days. She discovers, though, that it appears her death was caused by a self-induced abortion that went badly. Mokeddem holds Kenza's mother up as an example of the extremes to which the patriarchal Algerian society can force a woman. Rather than return to the lifestyle that she feels will be inevitable should she choose the life of a traditional Algerian woman, Kenza remains in France and later moves on to Canada, turning her back on the patriarchal family represented by her father and brothers back home. Patricia Geesey observed in the International Fiction Review that "although melodramatic at times, Of Dreams and Assassins develops an important portrait of the social and political climate that is affecting the lives of Algerians both at home and in France."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 1994, review of L'Interdite, p. 1588; March 15, 1998, Whitney Scott, review of The Forbidden Woman, p. 1203; May 1, 2006, Deborah Donovan, review of Century of Locusts, p. 72.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, December 1, 2006, D.L. Boudreau, review of Century of Locusts, p. 643.
French Review, April 1, 1997, Ahmed Bouguarche, review of Des rêves et des assassins, p. 758; December 1, 2002, Najib Redouane, review of N'zid, p. 439 February 1, 2008, "Reworking Autobiography: Malika Mokeddem's Double Life," p. 474.
International Fiction Review, January 1, 2003, Patricia Geesey, review of Of Dreams and Assassins, p. 100.
Library Journal, March 15, 1998, Faye Chadwell, review of The Forbidden Woman, p. 94.
Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, March 22, 2004, Brinda Mehta, "Geographies of Space: Spatial Impositions, Circularity, and Memory in Malika Mokeddem's Les Hommes Qui Marchent and Le Siecle Des Sauterelles," p. 1.
Muslim World, September 22, 2002, Steven Blackburn, review of Of Dreams and Assassins, p. 492.
World Literature Today, September 22, 1996, K. Melissa Marcus, review of Des rêves et des assassins, p. 1010; March 22, 1998, Mildred Mortimer, review of Les hommes qui marchent, p. 433; September 22, 1998, David Coad, review of The Forbidden Woman, p. 879; March 22, 1999, Nada Elia, review of La nuit de la lézarde, p. 373; June 22, 2001, Jane E. Evans, review of N'zid.
Mots Pluriels Web site,http://motspluriels.arts.uwa.edu.au/ (April 21, 2008), Jean-Marie Volet, "Malika Mokeddem: Against All Odds."
University Press of Virginia Web site,http://www.upress.virginia.edu/ (April 21, 2008), author profile.