Khadra, Yasmina (Muhammad Moulessehoul) (1955–)
Khadra, Yasmina (Muhammad Moulessehoul)
"Yasmina Khadra" is the pseudonym of the francophone Algerian writer Muhammad Moulessehoul, who adopted a woman's name to better camouflage his identity and achieve greater freedom in writing about the horrific events of the 1990s. He is one of his country's most important writers.
Muhammad Moulessehoul was born in 1955 in Kenadsa, Algeria. His father placed him in a military school in 1964, where he stayed until joining the Algerian military in 1975 and thereafter spending twenty-five years in the Algerian army. He began publishing his writing in the 1980s. He adopted a feminine pseudonym in 1988 to avoid submitting his manuscripts for approval by military censors while he was still an army officer, from 1978 to 2000. His choice of pseudonym is significant on various levels. Yasmina is his wife's name, and the choice of a woman's name also reflects his respect and admiration for the women of his country. The name posed a problem, however, as his growing popularity and success attracted the attention of critics whose assessment of the work was based at least in part on their attitudes toward female
writers. Rumors circulating about the identity of the author, however, drew this reaction from a leading French critic: "A he or a she? It doesn't matter. What matters is that Yasmina Khadra is today one of Algeria's most important writers." The revelation of his true identity in an interview with Le Monde des livres in January 2001, after leaving Algeria, provoked a mixed reaction, both disapproval and admiration. The fact that Khadra was an army officer compounded the problem. He explained his position in two novels, L'écrivain (The Writer, 2001), a semiautobiographical work in which he describes his love for words and writing, a passion that goes back to his youth, and L'Imposture des mots (The Imposture of Words, 2002), in which he returns to the charge more forcefully, putting its characters, as well as his favorite authors, to work in his defense. It is a powerful work but has not convinced all his readers of the necessity for a pseudonym. Those who expected an outright condemnation of the military for the massacres it committed during the civil war were disappointed; the
author does not denounce them, but rejects all assassins. His critics remain skeptical about his position.
In 2000 Khadra left Algeria for Mexico, "an initiation trip" that led him afterward to settle in France where he now lives. In his writings on Algeria's civil war, Khadra does not absolve the political regime from a part of the responsibility for the killings that characterized the 1990s in Algeria. But he blames the fundamentalist opposition for the deterioration of the situation and finds both parties equally guilty.
INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Several of Khadra's books have been translated into English, including Les Agneaux du Seigneur (1998; In the Name of God, 2000), A quoi Rêvent les loups (1999; Wolf Dreams, 2003), and Les Hirondelles de Kaboul (2002; The Swallows of Kabul, 2004), which is set in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime.
L'attentat (2005; The Attack, 2006), which in 2006 received both the Prix des Tropiques (awarded by the French Development Agency) and the Prix des Libraires, takes place in Israel and follows the life of an Arab Israeli couple living in Tel Aviv. The protagonist is a happily married and well-established medical doctor whose life is turned upside down when his wife becomes a suicide bomber. His quest for the truth leads him to the West Bank where he faces a different reality (a film based on the book is planned for the near future). The author is well aware of the impact the book had on the readers, a move he consciously planned. "I had to write an incomparable novel," he declared in an interview in the Algerian daily Liberté (Belloula). L'Attentat was Khadra's second novel located outside the geographical borders of his country; the earlier Les Hirondelles de Kaboul is situated in Afghanistan and the recent Les Sirènes de Baghdad (2006; The Sirens of Baghdad, 2007) revolves around the war in Iraq. These three novels seem to indicate that Khadra is intent on visiting the areas of conflict in the Middle East.
Name: Yasmina Khadra (pseudonym of Muhammad Moulessehoul)
Birth: 1955, Kenadsa, Algeria
Family: Wife, Yasmina
Education: L'Académie Militaire Inter-armes de Cherchell
- 1975: Enters military academy to train as an officer in the Algerian army
- 1984: Publishes first novels, Houria and Amen!, in Algeria under his real name
- 1985–1989: Publishes three more novels (De l'autre coté de la ville, La fille du pont, and Le privilège du phénix) under his real name
- 1988: Adopts Yasmina Khadra as a pseudonym to avoid military censors
- 1993–1999: Publishes seven novels as Yasmina Khadra
- 2000: Resigns military commission; leaves Algeria for Mexico, then goes to France
- 2001: Reveals male identity in interview with Le Monde des livres
- 2001–2002: Defends his choice to write under a pseudonym in L'écrivain (The writer) and L'Imposture des mots (The imposture of words)
- 2006: L'attentat (The attack) receives the Prix des Tropiques and the Prix des Libraires
MY NOVELS DO NOT SPEAK ABOUT TERRORISM
I never explore the same topic in my books. Each novel deals with a different phenomenon. It is you who do not manage to separate the different subjects I treat. You are constantly in a state of confusion. The Swallows of Kabul speaks about the dictatorship of the Talibans and the condition of the Afghan woman. The Attack speaks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Sirens of Baghdad speaks about the 2nd war of Iraq. Radically different topics, but everywhere you retain only terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. My novels do not speak about terrorism; they talk of human brittleness, anger, humiliation, the fears, sometimes the hopes; and of this burning and fatuous actuality which spoils our life.
(RICHARD MARCUS, "INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR YASMINA KHADRA," BLOGCRITICS MAGAZINE [8 FEBRUARY 2007] HTTP://BLOGCRITICS.ORG/ARCHIVES/2007/02/18/101256.PHP).
Khadra also published several early novels under his real name. Two, Houria and Amen! (both 1984) were published in Algeria. He published three more novels under his real name, one in France—De l'autre coté de la ville (1988; The other side of the city)—and two in Algeria: La fille du pont (1985; The girl on the bridge) and Le privilège du phénix (1989; The privilege of the phoenix), Written during his youth, at age twenty, Le privilège du phénix was blocked because of the presence of a character in the novel named Llaz. He was accused of plagiarism and the novel was withdrawn. It was many years later and only after he made changes that this novel was finally published. Though Khadra refrained from mentioning the name of the writer who accused him of plagiarism, it was in all probability al-taher wattar, author of the novel Al-Laz (1974). According to its author, Le privilège du phénix is a modest novel, "managed in an acceptable manner and partially completed" (Ghellal, 2004, p. 310).
Answering a question about his favorite novels, Khadra admitted without hesitation his preference for those written under the pseudonym: "Those written clandestinely, that is to say in an absolutely stimulating romantic freedom … and consequently completely involved with the causes I defend." The anonymity that Khadra enjoyed with the use of the pseudonym gave him great freedom of expression, the opportunity to innovate in style as well as tackle subject matter that would otherwise have been considered taboo or politically incorrect in view of his military status.
THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE
Khadra's ambition as a writer goes beyond the regional or national. It is clear from his many public declarations that he sees himself as a world writer and will not be pinned down as the interpreter of the folk heritage of his country. To this end, he says that "When I write, I do not have the desire to tell a story but to build something more important than that, something … more enduring, with the strong ambition to be adopted by the reader, to remain with him through his life," adding, "I think like a human being" (Ghellal, 2004, p. 310).
It seems premature to speak of the legacy of Khadra, a still active and very prolific author. Asked about his vocation as a writer, Khadra replied, "I am not certain yet. It is in doubt that one is forced to excel and to dig deep for the strength one needs. I try to deserve my position as a writer by investing myself deeper in my texts" (Khadr, 2003d, p. 14). The translation of his novels into English, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, German, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Polish, and Hebrew reflects world interest in his writings.
Achour, Christine. Anthologie de la littérature Algérienne de langue française. Paris: ENAP-Bordas, 1990.
Belloula, Nassira. "Le rêve algérien." Interview with Yasmina Khadra. Liberté-Algérie (30 October 2005). Available from http://www.yasmina-khadra.com/index.php?link=artic.
Ghellal, Abdelkader. Interview with Yasmina Khadra. In Echanges et mutations des modèles littéraires entre Europe et Algérie, edited by Charles Bonn. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2004.
Marcus, Richard. "Interview with author Yasmina Khadra," Blogcritics Magazine (18 February 2007):http://blogcritics.org/archives/2007/02/18/101256.php
Yasmina Khadra's Official Web site. Available from http://www.yasmina-khadra.com.
Interview with Yasmina Khadra. In Arabic. Djazaïr, no. 3 (2003d): 14.
WORKS BY KHADRA
Amen! (1984 [as Muhammad Moulessehoul])
Houria: nouvelles (Houria: stories, 1984 [as Muhammad Moulessehoul])
La fille du pont (The girl on the bridge, 1985 [as Muhammad Moulessehoul])
El-Kahira, cellule de la mort (El Kahira: cell of death, 1986)
De l'autre coté de la ville (1988; The other side of the city, [as Muhammad Moulessehoul])
Le privilège du phénix (1989; The privilege of the phoenix, [as Muhammad Moulessehoul])
La Foire des enfoirés: les enquêtes du Commissaire Llob (1993; The idiots' fair: the investigations of commissioner llob)
Morituri (1997; Morituri, 2003)
Les Agneaux du Seigneur (1998; In the Name of God, 2000)
L'automne des chimères (1998; Autumn of the Phantoms, 2006)
Double Blanc (1998; Double Blank, 2005)
A quoi Rêvent les loups (1999; Wolf Dreams, 2003)
Le Dingue au bistouri (1999; Madman with scalpel)
L'écrivain (2001; The Writer)
Les Hirondelles de Kaboul (2002; The Swallows of Kabul, 2004)
L'Imposture des mots (2002; The imposture of words)
Cousine K (2003; Cousin K)
La part du mort (2004; The share of death)
L'attentat (2005; The Attack, 2006)
La rose de Blida (2006; The rose of blida)
Les Sirènes de Baghdad (2006; The Sirens of Baghdad, 2007)
Aida A. Bamia