Moqaddem, Malika (1949–)

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Moqaddem, Malika

Trained as a nephrologist, Algerian novelist Malika Moqaddem (Mokeddem) gave up medicine in 1985 to devote herself entirely to writing. A descendant of recently sedentarized nomads from southern Algeria, Moqaddem evokes in her work the varied landscapes of the desert, the traditional lifestyle of Bedouin communities, and the oral rhythms of the stories her grandmother told her as a child. An outspoken critic of the misogyny she suffered from in Algeria, and more recently the racial discrimination she has experienced living and working in France, Moqaddem focuses most of her work on her own biographical experiences.


Moqaddem was born in 1949 in the small, Saharan mining town of Kenadsa on the Algerian-Moroccan border. She grew up at the foot of the great pink sand dune, la Barga, about a kilometer away from the traditional mud ksar (village). Her father worked as a gardener and later as a watchman for the Houillères du Sud oranais (Coal Mines of the South Oranais), and the family lived on the site. As the oldest of thirteen children (ten of whom lived) in a traditional Bedouin family, Moqaddem was expected to take care of her younger siblings—a role she rejected early on, immersing herself in schoolwork instead and earning high grades.

At puberty, she managed to stay in school, despite the fact that the high school was in the neighboring town of Béchar, more than 19 kilometers away. She was the only girl in her family or village to continue school and the only girl in a class of forty-five students. Supported by teachers, a literate paternal uncle, and her grandmother, Moqaddem persuaded her father to let her attend boarding school. She stubbornly refused her mother's attempts to draw her into overwhelming domestic tasks. She further established her independence from her family by working as a residence hall director during the school year, thus earning her own money and giving her father some of her wages. At home during the long, excruciatingly hot summer months, she erected a wall of books between herself and her family, took over the room set aside for guests, stayed up late reading, and then slept long into the day.


Name: Malika Moqaddem (Mokeddem)

Birth: 1949, Kenadsa, Algeria

Family: Divorced; no children

Nationality: Algerian

Education: Medical school, Oran and Paris; diploma in nephrology, 1985, Montpellier


  • 1985: Begins writing
  • 1989: Opens private practice in the immigrant quarter of Montpellier
  • 1990: Publishes Les Hommes qui marchent
  • 1991: Wins Prix Littré, Prix Collectif du Festival du Premier Roman de Chambéry, and Prix Algérien de la Fondation Nourredine Aba
  • 1992: Publishes Le Siècle des sauterelles; wins Prix Afrique-Méditerranée de l'ADELF for Le Siècle des sauterelles
  • 1993: Publishes L'interdite
  • 1994: Wins Prix Méditerranée for L'interdite
  • 1995: Publishes Des rêves et des assassins
  • 1998: Publishes La nuit de la lézarde
  • 2000: Publishes Of Dreams and Assassins
  • 2001: Publishes N'zid
  • 2003: Publishes La transe des insoumis
  • 2005: Publishes Mes homes
  • 2006: Publishes Century of Locusts

Moqaddem also refused an arranged marriage. When she left for medical school in Oran, she suffered from anorexia and insomnia. She traveled to Paris in 1977 where she finished her medical studies, married a Frenchman in 1978 and moved to Montpellier. There, she left hospital practice because of the race and gender bias she perceived and devoted herself to writing and obtaining a diploma in nephrology in 1985. In 1989, she opened a private practice serving North African clients, among others. She returned to Algeria for the first time in 1991 to receive the Nourredine Aba prize for Les Hommes qui marchent (1990; Men on the move). Since 1995 she has been a nephrologist seven days a month and a writer the rest of the time. She divorced in 1995. In 2001, after an absence of twenty-four years, Moqaddem visited her family in Kenadsa.


In addition to the oral stories of her grandmother, Moqaddem was greatly influenced by the life and writing of Isabelle Eberhardt (1877–1904), a radical individualist and romantic who married an Algerian, frequented the French Foreign Legion, and later spent time in the Sufi zawiya (mystical lodge) in Kenadsa. Similar to Eberhardt, Moqaddem's life has attracted perhaps more attention than her writing; Moqaddem, however, has won a number of literary prizes including: Prix Littré (1991), the Prix Collectif du Festival du Premier Roman de Chambéry (1991), and the Prix Algérien de la Fondation Nourredine Aba (1991) for Les Hommes qui marchent, the Prix Afri-que-Méditerranée de l'ADELF for Le Siècle des sauterelles (Century of Locusts) (1992) and the Prix Méditerranée (1994) for L'Interdite (Forbidden Woman).


Moqaddem's six novels and two memoirs are all highly critical of the misogyny she sees embedded in Algerian customs and institutions. Whereas some Western feminists praise her outspoken critique of gender practices and religion in Algeria, others—both Western and non-Western—find her work too self-centered and uncritically pro-Western. Other readers echo this critical divide.


Although her work is stylistically uneven and focuses mainly on her own life experiences, Moqaddem leaves a legacy of extraordinary accomplishment as a woman from a poor, rural background who became a doctor and a writer. She is a rare novelist whose intimate knowledge of Bedouin life and desert landscapes infuses her work with exquisite cultural specificity.


Father, my first man, through you I learned to measure love by the wounds I felt, by the absences I endured. At what age do words start their ravages? I track the images to earliest infancy. The words spring up in me, sketching out a black and white past. It's very early, too early—before reflection began, before I could even express myself, at that point when language starts to make innocence bleed, and cutting words leave a permanent scar that throbs with pain. Later in life, we live with it or rebel against it.

Talking to my mother you used to say "my sons" when you spoke of my brothers; "your daughters" when the conversation concerned my sisters and me. You always said "my sons" with pride. You had a touch of impatience, irony or resentment, sometimes even anger when saying "your daughters." The anger was when I disobeyed, which was often—rebelling to rebel, and also because it was the only way to reach you.



Duffin, Jacalyn. Review of The Forbidden Woman, by Malika Mokeddem. Literature, Arts and Medicine Database. Available from

Elia, Nada. Review of The Forbidden Woman, by Malika Mokeddem. World Literature Today 72, no. 4 (1998): 879.

Helm, Yolande. "Malika Mokeddem: A New and Resonant Voice in Francophone Algerian Literature." In Maghrebian Mosaic, edited by Mildred Mortimer. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001.

Marcus, K. Melissa. Preface in The Forbidden Woman, by Malika Mokeddem. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

Rice, Laura, and Karim Hamdy. Introduction in Century of Locusts, by Malika Mokeddem. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

                                              Laura Rice