One of the best known Algerian novelists who became the undisputed doyen of Algerian literature with the death of Kateb Yacine (1929 – 1989). Dib (born July 21, 1920, in Tlemcen, Algeria — died May 2, 2003, La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France) began writing poems and painting at an early age. During the 1940s, he held various jobs as a teacher, accountant, weaver and rug designer, interpreter, and journalist in ‘Alger Républicain’ in 1951 before turning to full-time writing. Dib first went to Paris in 1952 when the first volume of his great trilogy appeared. In 1955 he signed the manifesto Fraternité algérienne and his militant activities led to his expulsion from Algeria in 1959 by the colonial authorities. He settled permanently in France in 1964 and this marked a new trend in his writing. He published numerous novels, collections of short stories, books of poems, children’s tales, all imbued with nostalgia for his lost land.
‘La Grande Maison‘ was Dib’s first novel which was published in 1952, making Dib a member of the ‘Generation of 52’. These were a group of autochthonous writers who began publishing in the early 1950s, shortly before or at the time of the outbreak of the Algerian revolution (1954–62). By writing in French and using a European genre (the novel), these writers managed not only to exploit the colonizer’s linguistic and cultural tools in order to transform themselves from absent/ stereotyped to active/ critical subjects but also to refashion the colonizer’s language in such a way as to express the new identity of the emergent Algerian nation. Thus, francophone literature became an instrument of cultural and political subversion in this intellectual class of Algerians.
‘La Grande Maison’ is the first volume of a trilogy (the remaining volumes are ‘L’Incendie’ (1954) and ‘Le Métier à tisser’ (1957)), it depicts life in the streets and big houses where the poor Algerian underclass lived under French rule. Often, many families would share the same big house from the pre-colonial period. I am quite fond of this work because it was part of our French curriculum in secondary school. I loved the main character ‘Omar’, whom I found fascinating and wanted to be friends with him so that I accompany him in his adventures. I suppose I liked his rebellious spirit too.
I am not familiar with Dib’s later novels, but I will always be a fan of his early realist novels which spoke so simply and yet so powerfully about the poor Algerian worker and peasant, managing to create an unsettling sensation within the reader of being a witness of the simple Algerian people’s awakening to self-consciousness and to the impending and vital struggle for independence and self-realization.
In 1998, Dib won the Mallarmé Prize for poetry.
Here is an obituary by the Guardian.
Not all of Dib’s works have been translated into English or even Arabic, but here’s an English translation of a short story by Dib, which appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Banipal. Here is a collection of short stories by Dib which were translated into English.
Novels by Dib:
La grande maison (The big House) (1952)
L’Incendie (The Fire) (1954)
Le métier à tisser (The Loom) (1957)
Au café (1957)
Baba Fekrane (1959)
Un été africain (1959)
Qui se souvient de la mer (1962)
Cours sur la rive sauvage (1964)
Le talisman (1966)
La danse du roi (1968)
Dieu en barbarie (1970)
Le Maitre de chasse (1973)
L’histoire du chat qui boude (1974)
Mille hourras pour une gueuse (1980)
Les terrasses d’Orsol (1985)
Le sommeil d’Eve (1989)
Neiges de Marbre (1990)
Le Désert sans détour (1992)
L’infante Maure (1994)
L’arbre à dires (1998)
Le Cœur insulaire (2000)
The Savage Night (2001) (trans. by C. Dickson)
Comme un bruit d’abeilles (2001)
L.A. Trip (2003)
Poems by Dib:
Ombre gardienne (1961)
Feu beau feu (1979)
Ô vive (1987)