Tarek and Leïla are portrayed by their childhood friend, Saïd, in a book. A publication that transforms their lives, impacted moreover by colonization, the world war, the struggles for independence and the civil war.
A fictional story where we also meet Frantz Fanon, the Black Panthers, Yacef Saadi, the music of Warda Al-Jazaïria, a story that takes us, in one breath, from Algiers to Rome via Paris. Meeting with its author, Kaouther Adimi.
Young Africa : In the bad wind is inspired by the story of your grandparents. When does fiction begin?
Kaouther Adimi: There is a starting idea: me, who recognizes my grandparents in a novel published in Algeria, because they are named and it is the same village where I spent time. Afterwards, I imagined everything else. I dedicate the book to my grandparents because they are in a way the origin of this idea, but past the dedication, there is only the novel. The writer disappears – at least until the final pages.
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The novel is set in the political history of Algeria in the twentiethe century. Saïd, who made his childhood friends, Tarek and Leïla, heroes of novels, says that they are “”characters whose trajectories have been determined by the upheavals of the country”.
I believe that the XXe century smashes Tarek and Leïla. They suffered the Second World War, the Algerian War, then the publication of Saïd’s novel which forced them to flee and, finally, the civil war. If they are not determined solely by the upheavals in Algeria, they are in touch with these events. What to do within this framework? Tarek like Leïla will deviate from their initial trajectory. The first going to Rome, the second by learning to read. The publication of Saïd’s book will force them to take a new path.
You refer to several pages of history, including the Versailles mutiny of 1944. Can you come back to this little-known episode?
The novel is made up of ellipses because it is not a historical novel. I didn’t want the big story to take precedence over the trajectories of the characters, but even so, I couldn’t ignore certain events. For example, I had to find a way to tell the beginning and the end of the Second World War without being hasty or conventional. During research, I read an article by Emmanuel Blanchard on a revolt of North African soldiers in Versailles, in December 1944. I contacted the departmental archives of Yvelines and searched piles of boxes of documents. I was able to read the correspondence of the Ministry of the Interior, the military and officials of the time.
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The story seemed extraordinary to me: there were these hundreds of African soldiers quartered in Versailles the day after the liberation of the city, who were waiting to be able to return home after two or three years at the front or in the camps and who lived in deplorable conditions. Little by little, cinema, cafes, alcohol were forbidden to them by a whole series of decrees, until the arrest of three of them and the mutiny of some of the soldiers. This gave rise a few weeks later to a raid organized by the Ministry of the Interior. Tarek is at the center of this revolt.
The film The Battle of Algiers and its manufacture is another important page told in In the bad wind. Why ?
I was struck by the fact that this filming took place the day after independence in the very places of the battle of Algiers, filmed with non-professional actors, people who had experienced the war. The reception of the film is also interesting: France took years to issue the operating visa, the few cinemas to have programmed it had to face significant hostility orchestrated by the far right and those nostalgic for colonization … For Tarek, the filming of The Battle of Algiers, it is this moment when he realizes that the war continues, in Algiers in the places of the war, but also in the suburbs of Paris.
Following an attack in Paris, Tarek decides to leave behind him “France, Algeria and all that shit”. What is his parenthesis in Rome for?
It’s a suspended time and the only stroke of madness that Tarek allows himself, a necessary madness because he can finally put his demons aside, forget the wars for a while. It is also, perhaps, a way of saying that moving away from the Algeria-France axis allows a healthy distance.
Did your year of residence at the Villa Medici in Rome allow this?
I was happy to be able to move away a little, not to be in France during the election year, even if the stinking debates still reached me. Rome was for me, on the other hand, an important moment of encounter with exceptional artists.
The story opens with the mention of the nuclear tests carried out by France in Algeria. The first “evil wind”. To what extent is the “evil wind” both the absence of narratives as well as the dominance of certain others?
The bad wind is above all this thing present in the air and around us, despite the passage of time, and from which we cannot escape.
Comment look at you Emmanuel Macron’s recent trip to Algeria?
Am I entitled to a joker? His move is part of a relationship between Algeria and France, which, whatever may be said, is important because of human, commercial, historical, etc. ties. What is disturbing in Emmanuel Macron’s position is the evolution of the discourse: he spoke of crimes against humanity when he was a candidate and could have raised hopes. A real opening of the archives, a different approach on the questions of compensation for all those who have suffered nuclear tests, torture, war crimes…
What is the place of the war in Algeria today in Franco-Algerian relations?
It is a thorn in the side of France and in many French families, often eager for stories and answers, a thorn that has become infected. Emmanuel Macron does not want to remove the thorns, he only wants to soothe the pain superficially, when you would have to look at the foot, examine the wound and pull out the thorn. Moreover, both Algeria and France pretend not to see that the question of the Algerian war also concerns the way in which the French State has built its relationship with the Algerians on its soil and with the French of French origin. Algerian.
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The current Algerian state does not care about the way we are treated, it is not an issue for them. As for Emmanuel Macron, he leads an Islamophobic policy, carried by an extreme right, racist interior ministry, which, every day, contributes to making France an increasingly dangerous country for Muslims, the French originating from the Maghreb, etc. It is naive to believe that there is not a colonial heritage there. Some of Marlène Schiappa’s speeches are reminiscent of the speeches of generals’ wives during the war. The way of wanting to regulate the life of Muslims is directly inspired by colonization. For my part, I do not believe in the possibility of a peaceful relationship between Algeria and France if this subject is not treated with lucidity and courage.
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“What do our children inherit from our sorrows? asks Leïla precisely. Are your fictions a way of transmitting the impossibilities of saying?
The impossibility of saying, speaking, communicating, interacting and at the same time forgetting are recurring themes in my novels. This was already the case in my first book, Papicha ballet flats, where each member of a family told his day and told himself, while being incapable, with each other, of the slightest interaction. The difficulty of being oneself, of existing as a fully-fledged individual, of finding the right balance between modesty and speaking, are very present in In the bad wind.
What words and what silences have been transmitted to you?
I come from a country where silence is a form of extension of modesty. Little is said about our pains and our tragedies, and this is one of the subjects of the novel: what do we keep and what do we pass on from the wars we live through? Tarek and Leïla suffer three, which they never tell their children. And their children and grandchildren will do the same: myself, I only rarely talk about the civil war and what we lived through in the 1990s. However, saying nothing does not mean not transmitting anything. Silence is a form of inheritance. Important, because it pushes the one who receives it to try to discover what that he covers.