Rachid Boudjedra: الزقاق معركة (La Prise de Gibraltar) [The Capture of Gibraltar]
The hero of this novel, now a well-established doctor, has been named Tarik after Tarik ibn Ziad, the hero of his father. Tarik ibn Ziad was the man who first seized Gibraltar in 711. In fact, Gibraltar is named after him, being a corruption of Djebel (= mountain) Tarik. Tarik led an army of 10,000 men (or was it 7000?) who were probably almost entirely, like him, what we call Berbers (from the Romans’ calling them barbarians) but who are, in fact, Numideans. It seems possible that Moussa ibn Nusair, his chief, wanted him to fail. Indeed, that seemed highly likely when he made his famous speech saying that the sea was behind them and the enemy in front so the only way was to beat the enemy, which happened to be 40,000 Goths, led by Roderic. Tarik did, of course, win, paving the way for the Arab conquest of Spain, though Moussa was not too happy about it.
Most Westerners will probably be fairly ignorant of this key event in history but it is one of the key events that Boudjedra keeps bringing back as he tells his story of Dr. Tarik. Tarik (the doctor) has a very ambiguous feeling towards his namesake but finally (though reluctantly) makes the journey to Gibraltar to see the site of the battle, where his fears of how bland Gibraltar is are fully realised. Boudjedra’s style is to give us a patchwork and impressionistic portrait of his hero and his Algeria – Arab history as represented by Tarik, but also as represented by the Roman conquest of Constantine (his home town) and, more particularly, the battle for Algerian independence and the vicious attack by French soldiers on the people of Constantine, as a result of the killing of a few French soldiers, for which Tarik and his cousin Chems-Eddine are responsible. But we also see, through his eyes, how badly women are treated, the repression of both Islam and the French colonial apparatus (particularly, in both cases, as represented by teachers for whom he seems to have little love), the cowardice and collaboration of the older generation of Algerians with the French and how language is used for repression. Boudjedra’s technique is not to create a straightforward novel but to create a patchwork quilt with the same themes popping up over and over again but with the thread of Algeria and its history running through the whole. This is a modern novel and a novel of ideas and it is very sad that such a first-class work has not been translated into English.
First published in Arabic by ENAL, Algiers 1986
No English translation
First published in French by Denoël 1987
Translated by Antoine Moussali