Algerian-born writer and filmmaker Djebar, now living in France, makes her American debut with a collection offering memorable portraits of Arabic women in a time of change. Spanning the years 1958 to 1979, a period when Algeria fought a bitter war of independence from France and experienced a socialist revolution, Djebar's stories are intended to be ``the voice of all the women they've kept walled in'' in Islamic societies. As Sarah, who had been badly wounded while fighting, observes (in the title story): ``There is only one way to unblock everything--talk without stopping about yesterday and today, talk among ourselves in all the women's quarters, the traditional ones as well as those in housing projects and look. Look outside the walls.'' And this Djebar does, as she chronicles the changing role of Arabic and Algerian women during those tumultuous years. When the promised equality of the revolution is soon diluted by the return of old Islamic proscriptions, the narrator of ``Forbidden Gaze, Severed Head'' says, ``What words had uncovered in times of war is now being concealed underneath a thick covering of taboo''- -again, women, once the ``bombcarriers and sister-companions of the nationalist heroes,'' must hide behind veils and walls. Pieces like ``Nostalgia of the Horde,'' in which an old woman recounts her harsh treatment as a 12-year-old bride; ``Ramadan,'' in which a young woman is upset at the return of ``interminable formulas of politeness''; and ``There is No Exile,'' in which a grieving woman who lost her children and husband in the war is forced by her family to remarry--all reflect the continuing, often stifling power of older women and family. As much a critique as a picture of a society, Djebar's debut- -plus its informative afterword--is an elegant and evocative introduction to a too little-known world.