NIHAJAT AL-AMS

In this novel by the Algerian writer (1928–1996) we plunge into the midst of life around independence of Algeria. The main character of this book is a young married man Bashir who took up arms to fight the colonizing power France, got wounded, was treated in Tunis and East Germany (DDR). After many years he returns to his homecountry. He does not want to get involved with the elite who has benefitted from independence. He travels to the wiped out village of his youth and his wife. They all have gone. He assumes his wife is dead.

He wants to be a teacher and he is transferred to a small village. This is what he wants to do: work for a year in a village, help the community to reach out to the future, get things done and a shift in paradigma and move to another village to do the same. We encounter him in his first year in his new village and new school. He is the only teacher and his predecessors have all left after just a short while. Bashir wants to hang on and get acquainted with the people.

In his attempts to change life in the village he clashes with the powers of the mosque and the powers of capitalism (rich landlord). His time in the DDR probably has given him the tools to think in terms of a socialist state and his socialist ideas are rife on the pages. The attempts of socialism to elevate people, but also to discard people who are an hindrance to the socialist elevation are to be found in this book. By now we know the end of the great era of socialism in the DDR.

Notwithstanding his fight against the forces of the past (mosque and capitalism) he pulls strings in high places where his friends lend him a helping hand to push on with his plans. This pulling of strings seems to me to be part of the past he wants to leave behind. Maybe tradition is stronger than admitted by this primary school teacher.

When schoolterm starts young children come to enroll in the school. One of them is a young boy Saïd who has been shepherding the flock of the rich landlord. When the boy gives his full names Bashir is in for a shock. He cannot handle this on his own, and he gets help from a trusted friend in the village.

The structure of the book has a peculiar twist. There are two endings in the book. Two final chapters with each a different plot. So you get somethhing to choose from and  chew on.

I enjoyed the book eventhough at times the socialist optimism of Bashir was a bit too much.

Abdelhamid Benhedouga – Nihayat al-Ams – 1975

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