7 November 2015

Boualem Sansal: Rue Darwin (2011)

Rue Darwin is the final book in the six-novel Romans 1999–2011 collection, and although it's tempting I'll be making a pause of a week or so before reading his latest and only other novel, 2084: you can have too much of a good thing, and it's time for me to take stock of Boualem Sansal.

This novel is the most autobiographical of Sansal's, and is in some respects the most difficult to get to grips with: it doesn't have the familiar long digressive rants about the troubled history of Algeria or the present political situation there, although the content necessitates the usual flashbacks, and the confusion which appears to be endemic in Algeria is mirrored by the narrator's confusion about his own life, indeed about his identity.

The narrator is Yazid, whose mother has just died. He decides that he must return to Rue Darwin, where he was brought up for some time with her and his step-father and his younger step-brothers and step-sisters in a very humble home in Belcourt, Algiers.

Yazid is the only remaining member of the family now living in Algeria: his mother  has just died in Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, where she was flown from Algiers a short time before. Her other sons and daughters – with the exception of Hédi who has been brainwashed by djihadism and whose whereabouts are unknown – were at her bedside although they only saw her in a coma: there's Souad (now Sue), who's a teacher at the University of Berkeley, California; Moundia (now Munya), who's in communication in Canada; Karim (now Karym) who lives in Marseilles; and then there's the rich and powerful Nazim (now Nazym), who's a businessman in Paris.

Yazid wasn't actually raised as a child by his mother but by his grandmother Djéda, or Lalla Sadia, an immensely rich woman who owned a brothel next to her home in an Algerian village. She has contrived to adopt Yazid, who subsequently lives in some splendour and then one of the prostitutes – Farroudja – kidnaps him at the age of eight and he joins his mother and his step-siblings. Although it's nowhere near as simple as that.

Dauod – who like Yazid's brothers and sisters has a westernised name change to David – begins to suddenly develop in importance towards the end of the novel. He was one of the brothel children and was a young friend of Yazid's, so Yazid tries to seek him out when he goes to Paris. It's there that he learns from David's friend Jean that he died of AIDS some year before, although Yazid doesn't tell his (real) mother that Daoud was a homosexual when he returns to Algiers: at the end he learns that his biological mother is in fact Farroudja, whose other son was Daoud, so the 'brothers' and 'sisters' Yazid spent his late childhood and adolescence with have no apparent genetic relation to him. Confusing? Yes, that's the narrator's point: this is Algeria.

My other posts on Boualem Sansal:

Boualem Sansal: 2084 : La fin du monde
Boualem Sansal: Le Village de l'Allemand
Boualem Sansal: Harraga
Boualem Sansal: Dis-moi le paradis
Boualem Sansal: L'Enfant fou de l'arbre creux
Boualem Sansal: Le Serment des barbares

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