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Mohammed Dib: L’Incendie [The Fire]
Bni Blouden is a small Algerian village in the mountains where life goes on at its normal pace. Down below, in the fertile valley, the French colonists have the good life. The year is 1939, still some time from Algerian freedom. However, the Arabs in Bni Blouden talk about striking and soon the country is in an uproar. When a fire breaks out, the strikers are accused of being arsonists and the strike leaders are arrested. This straightforward plot outline fails to convey the beauty of Dib’s novel. Its strength is in conveying what makes this simple village, with its simple people, a place of importance, a place of beauty, even. We see it primarily through the eyes of Omar and we see it as a place where ordinary men and women are trying to scratch out a miserable living in a country that has been torn from them by a colonizing power. They are not great people – (Bni Boublen may not be a wonderful place. They don’t know much, the people who live there, although they have the reputation of being educated. They know even less about Bni Boublen., says Comandar, Omar’s mentor) – but they have their dignity, they are individuals and Dib shows us how they much they matter. In short, they are worth fighting for and Dib shows us why.
First published in French by Éditions du Seuil in 1954
No English translation