A book of beauty.
A stream of words, crafted by Malika.
At times I drifted along with her stream of thoughts and words used.
To me this book is a beautiful book.
This story is set in the desert areas of Algeria, during the colonial days., when the French colonial power tried to rule this enormous stretch of land inhabited by settled people and nomadic people.
We meet Mahmud, a man from nomadic extraction. He was blessed with the opportunity to study, even in Egypt. He is a wordwizard, a crafter of stories and poetry. After his studies Mahmud travels to his ancestral ground, but he sees that the French family Sirvant has taken hold of the extensive plot. Mahmud wants to dig up the remains of his grandmother who was buried here. When he has has left with a bag of bones a swarm of locusts descends on the area. When he returns to the farm of Sirvant he sees the total destruction through the locusts. When he watches the destruction he sees that the buildings go up in flames. In the fire the Sirvant family looses one of their sons, Pierre, who was close to the Arab population. The Sirvant think that Mahmud is the man who has set the farm ablaze, and start a hunt for him. The real fire instigator of the fire was however the elusive and croocked El-Majnun.
Mahmud is the man on the run, he decieds to leave the fertile areas and to withdraw himself in the arid areas. He meets a black slave woman with whom he starts a family. The woman did not have a formal name, but was called ‘daughter of a dog’. Mahmud gives her the name ‘Nedjma’ (star). Yasmine is their daughter and they have a very young baby son. One day two man approach the tent, where Nedjma is with her two children. Nedjma is raped and killed by these men. When Mahmud returns Yasmine is in shock and does not speak any longer. After a few days the bay son dies.
Now Mahmud has manifold duties. To stay out of the clutches of the French gendarme, to chase the two murderers of his wife, to raise Yasmine who does not speak. He teaches Yasmine to read and to write. In this way she becomes a girl that is different from other girls, being a girl with a nomadic father and a black mother does not help her either in contact with other people. Her father tries tries to avoid the contact with other people.
At times he has close contacts with other people, for instance the widow Khadidja, who has a strong liking for Yasmine. Mahmud even leaves Yasmine with this lady when he hunts for the murderer of his wife. Also the Jewish shop owner Benichou lends a helping hand in the hunt for the murderers.
The age of the locusts shows the way locusts are a destructive force, destroying harvests, plants, everything is returned to zero. It shows the destructive force of the French colonial power, that that hold of daily life and wants to change it to conform to the world of the French locusts. It shows the destructive German attitude to the Jewish population. It shows the destructive force of the traditions that Mahmud tries to avoid.
Opposite this we see the renewing power of words, sentences, stories, poetry. This is what Mahmud wants to teach his daughter Yasmine. The words continue, stories are being told and continue being told. Even in the ‘misty’ end of this book, the stories continue, in manifold ways.
Malika Mokeddem – Le siècle des sauterelles – 1992