Born in 1945 into a poor peasant family, Rachid Mimouni was not predestined to become one of Algeria's most brilliant and controversial writers. His father decided to send him to a French colonial school. "My father was illiterate, never went to school. His parents sent him to work when he was quite young and he wanted a better future for me", the author recalls.
Rachid Mimouni grew up in a house where there was not a single book -- except the textbooks he brought back from school --until he suddenly discovered the world of classical litterature, at some stage half way through his secondary education: "My knowledge of the French language was by then sufficient for me to read the classical works of French and world litterature: I loved it. I still remember the name of the first book I read: Le Grand Meaulnes,by Alain Fournier, a French writer who died in 1914.
Today Rachid Mimouni is an accomplished writer,with several successful books behind him, including Le fleuve détourné,1982 Tombeza, 1984, L'honneur de la tribu,1989. Unlike most contemporary Algerian authors, he does not write on the subject of the war of liberation, but on more topical subjects such as the present situation in Algeria, and particularly on the consequences of arbitrary power.
His last book Une peine à vivre (Editions Stock, Paris) tells the story of a dictator who faces the death squad and during his last minute sees the whole of his life flash before him. It is a typical story of a third world dictator. Through a military career, a poor boy slowly, rises to the higher circles of government and becomes an implacable dictator, known as "the Marshal". The author draws heavily on some Arab models. His Marshall's moustache could belong to former Algerian president Boumediène or to Saddam Hussain, his violent language has a lot in common with that of President Assad. But Rachid Mimouni also remembers and amalgamates Imin Dada's bulging belly, Stalin's insomnia and Beria's sexual appetites into his character. Rachid Mimouni build up an almost clinical description of a ruthless and monstrous dictator and of the mechanics of dictatorship.
If this dictator is so terrible, how come does he finally face a death squad?
"I always have been convinced that power means evil”, says Rachid Mimouni. “Some years ago, when we were still living in Algeria under single party rule, I was outraged by the way the power treated the press. I did write a short story about it but I was not satisfied. I wanted to explain this contempt and where it originates. A short story was not enough. Little by little, searching through the threads, I wrote this novel. Why does somebody become a dictator? Generally they are born into the poorest class and feel they have scores to settle, with society or with their family. All their childhood they were deprived of feelings of affection by parents who considered it a weakness. They are poor guys who think that a hold on power -- on “the” power -- is the best way out. But one day they make a mistake. My dictator succumbed to love, maybe the only thing which can destroy power".
Rachid Mimouni has not located his novel in a particular named country. The action takes place in a country with Roman ruins, bordered by a sea. The countrywas once a colony, and produces oil.
"Two essential things have changed for the Algerian writers”, notes Rachid Mimouni. “We are no longer watched by the police, and there is no more censorship. Before 1988 I was regularly called to the police station. Two of my books,"Le Fleuve détourné" and "Tombéza" were banned, they even went as far as banning the French newspapers which reviewed my books. They questioned my family and friends, asking if some of my father's land had been nationalised, or if we had owned a factory, or if we were close to some opponent in exile, or in jail. They could not believe I had no personal score to settle with the regime”.
“Now, we can write what we want where we want. Recently, I wrote a very nasty article against the government, almost insulting it. Before, it would never have been published, and if it had, and I would have been arrested. Now there are no more problems".
Although he writes in French, Rachid Mimouni claims that his "natural audience" is the Algerian public."Like any writer, I aspire to a larger public, and I am quite happy to be read in French,Arabic or English. But the fact that I write in French does not limit my Algerian audience. My books have been translated in 11 languages but only Tombèza has appeared in Arabic."
(The Middle East magazine, February 1992, Les Cahiers de l’Orient, 1992)
Droits de Reproduction strictement réservés © Chris Kutschera 2012
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