Book Talk: Algerian reflects on Nazi father's sins

Wed Nov 5, 2008 6:12am EST
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By William Maclean

ALGIERS (Reuters Life!) - Boualem Sansal's new novel about guilt and memory shocked Algerians by tracing a connection between the Nazi death camps of World War Two and Islamist militancy in contemporary Europe and north Africa.

The prize-winning author is unapologetic, saying the novel "Le Village de l'Allemand" (The German Man's Village) has a universal resonance beyond modern Algeria and former colonial power France, the countries in which most of the action is set.

An Industry Ministry official before he began writing novels in the 1990s, Sansal first wrote the story in French. It is to be published next year in about 15 other languages.

He spoke to Reuters about truth and responsibility.

Q - What was the genesis of this story?

A - In part, my encounter with this village. I was in a car with two or three friends, we were working together. We had a coffee there, then we went off to Setif town nearby where we had work to do. We spoke to our hosts there, telling them we sort of lost our way in the country and drifted, and then stumbled upon this very strange village. They said "Ah, the German's village." They told us that this German was an SS man who had worked in the death camps, then after the Second World War he fled to Egypt because he was a wanted man, and in Egypt he had had extremely eventful adventures ... When the Algerian liberation war broke out ... he worked as an instructor at the general staff (of the Algerian revolutionary army). Did the general staff know of his past? I don't think so. After the war his past was discovered. It was awkward. So he was removed from the army. As a war criminal, he couldn't go anywhere so he stayed in Algeria, converted to Islam and married.

Q - What was your aim in writing this book?

A - My aim was to address the problem of transmission (of history) and responsibility, two questions which concern me greatly because I live in a country where history is tampered with. Algerians don't know their own history. History has become an ideology. It's no longer a scientific subject. It's an instrument of power. If history can be cut, it is cut, and if it cannot be cut, it's deformed. Any time it's possible to restore things to the thread of history, it should be done.   Continued...