Happy Birthday Ahlam Mosteghanemi!
Ahlam Mosteghanemi (born 1953) – Algerian novelist – Memory in the Flesh (1998)
Read a New York Times profile of Mosteghanemi here
LISTENING Since I spend half the year in Southern France and the rest of my time in the Lebanese mountains, I tend to let nature provide its orchestra, whether it’s the sound of sea gulls or singing cicadas. Otherwise, I love listening to André Rieu, a famous Dutch violinist, known for leading the Strauss Orchestra. I also like listening to Richard Clayderman, a French pianist who is both melancholic and romantic. I have been listening to him for the past 20 years.
WATCHING I made the conscious decision a few years ago to stop watching TV. When you live in the Arab world, what matters is not what you watch but what you choose not to watch. Most of what you see on Arab TV can poison your life, as it is mostly disasters. You could be watching a program and very often it would be interrupted by a live broadcast of some catastrophe. There is a competition between the TV channels to promote their version of events and a focus on graphic details.
For movies, I prefer ones that offer an escape from reality and provide a deep philosophical message such as “Dead Poets Society,” which makes you question everything you thought was indisputable and is ingrained in your brain as holy since childhood.
FOLLOWING I have more than eight million fans on my Facebook page who overwhelm me with constant commentaries to my posts. Considering what we are experiencing in the Middle East, everyone takes himself for a writer and has a story to convey. They mostly talk to me about exile — the despair of losing everything and the painful breakdown of families. I find myself becoming the reader of my readers.
Memory in the Flesh is the first novel written by an Algerian woman in Arabic that has become a best seller. It was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 1998 in recognition of its distinction. Ahlam Mosteghanemi is able to represent more than four decades of Algerian history as they interweave with the characters’ trajectories and memories, from the revolt of 1945 in East Algeria to 1988 when, Khaled, the protagonist-narrator is writing a memoir of his in the form of the novel we read.
Memory in the Flesh is dedicated to both the author’s militant father, who was engaged in the national liberation struggle, and to her literary father, the Francophone Algerian poet and novelist, Malek Haddad (1927-78), who decided after the independence of Algeria in 1962 not to write in a foreign language any more, and he ended up not writing at all. Haddad’s verbal traces in Memory in the Flesh, whether in allusions or intertextual references, attest to the literary kinship between the two writers. The issue of filiation and affiliation is a prominent motif in this novel.
Ahlam Mosteghanemi articulates the drama of contemporary Algeria in the language denied to colonized Algerians. Her novel partakes in cultural decolonization of her country on two levels: it reappropriates Algerian history and presents the ravages of colonialism from the point of view of its victims; and also she repossesses the mother tongue by writing in the language of the victims with passion and mastery. But the novel is not only about the Algerian struggle against foreign domination, it is also about the complex post-independence problems facing the emerging nation. Ahlam Mosteghanemi exposes, with a postcolonial awareness, the disappointments, deviations and displacements of revolutionary ideals.
Listen to a 2014 BBC interview of Ahlam Mosteghanemi
“A writer writes from the unconscious”