Prize-winning novelist and poet Djaout was assassinated in 1993 by Islamic fundamentalists in his native Algeria, leaving this very short novel, a painful rumination on the death of the spirit in a repressive society, among his papers.
Boualem has already suffered much under the new theocratic regime of his stricken homeland, something he knows only too well even as he drives along the sea hoping that a member of the ruling Vigilant Brothers won’t pull him over for some impious infraction. A bookseller, he has had to allow the offerings in his store to be removed from public view, and he’s seen his clientele dwindle to a determined but furtive single customer. A devoted family man, he also has had to accept the defection of his wife and grown children, who are more willing than he is to embrace the new national order and its offers of temporal and everlasting rewards. But in spite of these blows to his sense of identity, Boualem persists, believing that his passive defense of the material contained in his books is necessary to keep hope for change alive. Even when he is cursed and stoned by children in the neighborhood, he carries on, consoling himself with his reading and with remembrances of his own children in happier times. The arrival of a threatening letter, however, marks a tightening of the noose around him. Followed swiftly by even more threatening phone calls, Boualem receives the final blow when he goes to his store one day and finds that it and its contents have been confiscated. He can do nothing now but ponder his future—without consolation.
Though these and other bleak reflections on fundamentalist society remain as legacy, the stilling of Djaout’s humanist voice is a loss to the larger literary world as much as to his embattled homeland.