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  • Writing Wrongs:The Representation of 'Harkis' in Yasmina Khadra's La part du mort
  • Lucie Knight

In Experimental nations, the literary critic Réda Bensmaïa argues that the relationship between literature and nationalism within the Algerian context has changed signifi cantly since the end of War of Independence. In the 1950s this relationship was creative, writers "had a real sense of participating in an effort of nation building".1 However, as Bensmaïa observes, in the postcolonial period, literature has become less concerned with the construction of a particular national image and more involved in criticizing the one that exists as the government has increasingly been charged with corruption and a betrayal of the principles of the revolution.2 The Algerian writer Rachid Boudjedra echoes Bensmaïa's interpretation, noting that Algerian literature is a "littérature politique dans le sens subversif du terme; c'est-à-dire une littérature de subvertissement, du renversement".3 Rather than writing a narrative of the national ideal, writers now strive to create a narrative of the real that reveals the fi ctitious nature of offi cial discourse and policy.

As this study demonstrates, Yasmina Khadra challenges the offi cial Algerian narrative of the struggle for Independence in his detective novel La part du mort by re-examining a problematic period in Algerian history, the 'harki' massacres.4 Harkis or Français Musulmans Rapatriés (FMR) were Algerians employed by the French army during the war.5 Upon Algerian independence, the French administration denied them any form of protection or asylum and they subsequently became the object of widespread aggression in Algeria.6 As this analysis argues, Khadra's narrative excavation of these events challenges stereotypical representations of this community and undermines a policy [End Page 163] of silence instituted by the Algerian government. In the process, Khadra re-examines the very foundations of the Algerian nation.

The experience of Harkis has been characterized by geographical, administrative and social exclusion in both Algeria and France.7 Families 'repatriated' to France during the period immediately following the war were subjected to a governmental policy that created a social, geographical and administrative 'non-place' for them. For example, upon their arrival in France the government hid their presence on French soil by secretly transporting them to secluded internment camps that essentially prohibited their interaction with French society.8 Administratively, they were also at a disadvantage as they were differentiated from other types of 'rapatriés' and denied some forms of governmental aid.9 It was not until 1994 that the French government altered its policy regarding these members of the French population, both admitting their presence in France and offi cially recognizing their contribution to the war through a law.10 The Algerian government equally attempted to exclude them from society, forcing those who escaped after independence to renounce citizenship. Recently, Algeria has continued to appear desirous of maintaining their 'non-existence,' discouraging their return to Algeria. Most notably President Boutefl ika stated in June of 2000: "les conditions ne sont pas encore venues pour des visites des harkis . . . C'est exactement comme si on demandait à un Français de la Résistance de toucher la main d'un collabo."11 He later clarifi ed his feelings towards this community saying that although harkis themselves were still considered traitors and were unwelcome on Algerian soil, their children could travel freely to Algeria. The Harki community therefore occupies a kind of "no-man's land" with regard to national, social and political identity in both France and Algeria. No longer Algerian, due to their association with the French forces, they are at the same time not French due to their Algerian "Otherness."

Until recently, this community has also been overwhelmingly absent from both historical and literary narratives. Michèle Chossat notes that since the 1960s, only a handful of historical texts have focused on this subject, very few articles exist, and it was only in 2003 that children of harkis began to publish texts relating both their parents' and their own experiences.12 However, very few fi ctional texts have attempted to portray the controversial and painful fate of this community [End Page 164] during or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1836
Print ISSN
0098-9355
Pages
pp. 163-179
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-29
Open Access
No
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