Tears of the Crocodile

Below, the opening paras of Regina Keil-Sagawe’s excellent interview with Algerian novelist Yasmina Khadra in Qantara magazine; you can read the full interview here.

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“There Is a Life after Defeat”

Now based in France, the Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra is one of his country’s most successful authors. The film The Attack, based on Yasmina Khadra’s book of the same name, was honoured as Best International Literary Adaptation at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. Regina Keil-Sagawe joined the novelist for an espresso.

“Quel étage?” asks the friendly brunette in the lift at the Algerian Cultural Centre on Rue de la Croix-Nivert. “Seventh floor,” I answer. “Ah, quelle chance! Lucky you! That’s where you’re closest to heaven, and there’s a fantastic view of Paris. I work on the second floor.” She gives a shrug of regret and disappears into the library.

Up on the seventh floor, Yasmina Khadra alias Mohammed Moulessehoul is waiting for me – the Algerian writer who rose like a comet in the Parisian literary heavens in the 1990s. Ever since, his nom de plume has stood for thrilling, entertaining reads; for great, passionately committed literature that traces the conflict between the Arab world and the West with unashamed pathos and emotion. And which appeals worldwide for understanding between nations, for peace and tolerance in Algeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, in Israel, Palestine and Iraq.

Today, he seems exhausted. He has dark shadows underneath his eyes – a bestselling author and institute director with a full appointment book. He has just presented his latest novel in Spain and the Frankfurt Book Fair is just around the corner, where he is a guest of honour. Khadra grants me an audience for the length of an espresso.

***

Yasmina Khadra, you’re one of the guests of honour at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, taking part in the award ceremony for the best international literary adaptation, which is going to The Attack, filmed by the Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri and based on your novel set in Israel. What are your expectations of this award? Does it make amends for the fact that the film couldn’t win anything at Cannes, because neither Lebanon nor any other Arab state would let it compete in its name – and Qatar, the movie’s main financial backer, even offered large sums of money for its name to be removed from the credits…?

Film poster of The Attack
Award-winning film: “The Attack” was awarded the 10,000-euro prize at the Frankfurt Book Fair for Best International Literary Adaptation. The movie is based on Yasmina Khadra’s novel of the same name

Yasmina Khadra: There is a life after defeat. The film wasn’t shown in Cannes, but now it’s getting an award in Germany – as it did in Marrakech, at the International Film Festival. That’s the up and down of existence. There’s no reason to love life any less, despite all the injustice, the resentment, the defamation.

I’m an uncomfortable writer, someone who disturbs people, who doesn’t fit into the picture, but I can’t help it. Some people have problems dealing with my atypical career path as a writer. Expectations? I don’t have any. I do the things that are dear to my heart, and kindred spirits are welcome to join me. If my life in Paris has taught me one thing, then it’s this: no crocodile has ever been tamed by someone drying its tears.

[ctd. here …]

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