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Kateb Yacine: Nedjma (Nedjma)

Nedjma is a strange book, written in poetic rather than narrative form. Kateb has created the character of Nedjma, the daughter of a French woman and Arab man, as a mythic person, loved by four men – Mourad, Lakhdar, Mustapha et Rachid – who share friendship and their desire to free Algeria as well as their love for her. Nedjma is, incidentally, married, by orders of her mother, to Kamel, son of the fundamentalist Si Mokhtar. She also carries the photo of a never identified French soldier with her. It is pointless reciting any plot for this novel is not a plot novel. Nedjma is the Arabic for star and the novel is written like a star, with Nedjma at the center and everyone (and everything) else radiating from her. Working out from Nedjma, Kateb shows us both the aspirations of the Algerians for independence, the traditions of the Algerians and their clans, the importance of legends to Algerians and, finally, the quest of the four men to find meaning, through Nedjma, in their lives. Often recognised as the greatest Algerian novel, Nedjma compares favourably with the best work of Mohammed Dib.

Publishing history

First published in French by Éditions du Seuil 1956
First published in English by University Press of Virginia 1991
Translated by Richard Howard