The topic Fatema Bakhai treats in Izuran (Roots) is not common in Algerian literature. She decided to revisit Algerians’ history from the
beginning Neolithic to the fall of the Regency of Algiers through a historical fiction. This novel can therefore be read in conjunction with late Algerian historian Mahfoud Kaddache‘s excellent “Algerians’ Algeria“.
The book comes in three volumes (and the author said there wouldn’t be a fourth), and I’ve only read the first one “Izuran, in the country of the free men” which ends at the fall of Carthage in hands of the Muslims but I cannot wait to read the other two.
Fatema Bakhai, in a very good storyteller style, chose to go through this time period by relating the stories of the members of the same family through several generations. So we get to know very interesting, smart, courageous people such as Red Hair, Black Curls, Ayye, Amestan, Tirman, Tiziri, Amadeus ending up with Amzagh.
The reader becomes acquainted with these people, their lives and their joys and sorrows and develops a sympathy towards them, perhaps a bigger feeling if the reader considers them as his/her ancestors.
While keeping the tribal constitution, these Amazigh (that’s what they are) enter into civilisation, their own. They develop things, practices, economies. They learn from other tribes even when fighting with them. One of the changes that the communities undergo during this process is the leadership shifting from females to males.
Then foreigners come to this land, the Carthaginians, the Romans and then the Vandals. Members of the above family decide to go visit Carthage, fight with Hannibal against Rome. Others, a few generations later, hesitate between Massinissa and Syphax, the Amazigh aguellids (kings) who instead of creating one unified kingdom do fight each other as proxies of the two powers, Carthage and Rome. We see then other members become Roman citizens, romanised with Roman names and speaking Latin and Greek. But never do they forget their roots, their dignity and their desire of freedom. Aren’t they the free men of this land?!
The Amazigh, mixing with the foreigners, add up many other practices to their own. Some become Jewish, others Christians, others choose Carthage’s or Rome’s divinities when some keep their own beliefs. They start building houses, learn languages, practice medicine, etc.
Revolts against the foreign invaders and attempts to unite the Amazigh tribes do not stop and at. Juba I, Tacfarinas, Cabaon, etc. all lead such movements. Even Donatus and his movement is a kind of revolt for the sake of North Africa.
The story of volume 1 ends when Maxence describes his dreams of having a great Amazigh kingdom which wouldn’t be a vassal of Rome or Constantinople, and believes this young man whose poems on freedom he found would lead such a project. He doesn’t know the young man is hiw own son Amzagh. But he doesn’t know either what Amzagh had just discovered during his last visit to Carthage, the city has fallen in the hands of people calling themselves Muslims and shouting Allah Akbar.
Title: Izuran (Roots), Au pays des hommes libres
Author: Fatema Bakhai
Publisher: Editions Alpha 2010