Neustadt International Prize

1996 - Assia Djebar

Born: 4 August 1936, Cherchell, Algeria

Author's Quote : "Since they weren't sleepy and nothing had been left unsaid, they began to read poetry to each other, taking turns like children and enjoying it."

Field: Essayist, Novelist

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Assia Djebar

About Assia Djebar

Assia Djebar is the pen name of Fatima-Zohra Imalayen (born 4 August 1936), an Algerian novelist, translator and filmmaker. Most of her works deal with obstacles faced by women, and she is noted for her feminist stance. She is "frequently associated with women's writing movements, her novels are clearly focused on the creation of a genealogy of Algerian women, and her political stance is virulently anti-patriarchal as much as it is anti-colonial." Djebar is considered to be one of North Africa's pre-eminent and most influential writers. She was elected to the Académie française on 16 June 2005, the first writer from the Maghreb to achieve such recognition. For the entire body of her work she was awarded the 1996 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Djebar was born Fatima-Zohra Imalayen on August 4, 1936, to Tahar Imalhayène and Bahia Sahraoui into a Berber-speaking family. She was raised in Cherchell, a small seaport village near Algiers in the Province of Aïn Defla. Djebar's father was an educator, teaching the French language at Mouzaïaville dans la Mitidja, a primary school she attended. Later, Djebar attend a Quranic private boarding school in Blida, where she was one of only two girls. She studied at Collège de Blida, a high school in Algiers, where she was the only Muslim in her class.

Djebar spent most of the war years outside Algeria, but afterward she taught history at the University of Algiers, was made department head of the French Section at the university, and became a filmmaker. Her film Nouba des femmes du mont Chenoua, the story of an Algerian woman engineer returning to Algeria after a long Western exile, was released in 1978. Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement (1980; Women of Algiers in Their Apartment) is a collection of novellas and short stories calling attention to the lingering disparities between the treatment of men and women following the decolonization of Algeria.

Later works such as L'Amour, La Fantasia (1985; Fantasia), Ombre sultane (1987; A Sister to Scheherazade), and Vaste est la prison (1995; So Vast the Prison) continue to explore themes of inequality using a blend of autobiography, historical record, myth, and fiction. In the semiautobiographical Le Blanc de l'algérie (1995; Algerian White), Djebar more explicitly addressed her personal story by re-creating the lives of friends lost to violent religious extremism and contrasting those tales with those of other Algerian intellectuals who had died. Her 2003 novel La Disparition de la langue française ("The Disappearance of the French Language") mines the story of a returning Algerian expatriate for insights into the fraught relationship between the French and Arabic languages in Algeria.

Djebar moved to the United States in 1995 and taught French literature at Louisiana State University and then at New York University. In 2005 Djebar was elected to the Académie Française.


Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade - Assia Djebar

By S. Gibson

A friend of mine once said that this was her all-time favorite book in French, and though that might seem a bit hyperbolic, I've come to consider it as one of my favorites as well (in fact, I ended up writing my Master's thesis on it, 100 pages, all in French, about this book alone!). The English translation does lack something, so if you can read French, by all means read the original, "L'amour, la fantasia". Djebar is a fascinating person- writer, scholar, and award-winning filmmaker- and this is arguably her best novel. Wrestling a voice for herself from the colonizer's language (French), she also struggles with the cultural implications of "unveiling" herself through that same language to a primarily foreign audience. Her innovative approach to this problematic is to structure her novel like a musical piece (a "fantasia") with various "movements" (chapters alternating between her own autobiography, the history of the fight for control of Algeria, and the "voices" of illiterate women whose stories she's translated and transcribed). The "fantasia" is also a traditional North African equestrian ceremony, in which men parade their horses before going off to battle, and in which women participate on the sidelines, as it were, cheering on the men by ululating. Without giving away the full implications of this double analogy (and hence some key elements of the story), the "fantasia" takes the form, generally, of both the means by which some Algerian woman are able to speak, as well as that of their traditional marginalization in the patriarchal society of Algeria. Musicality, orality, and the written word blend in this highly original work to portray the author's fragmented sense of self, and the final product is rendered in a beautiful prose. If you're interested in sampling some of the finest writing by any French-speaking author today, or are fascinated by these kinds of postcolonial aesthetic problematics, read this book! It's a classic!

Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade - Assia Djebar

By Ms. W

Beautiful, rich, complex, moving. Multi-layered and conflicted. Using the language of her country's oppressors she speaks about women's roles in her country -- something she couldn't do without the liberation of her gender offered her by these oppressors.