Book Review: Bleu Blanc Vert

BleuBlancVertMany Algerian writers, too many of them in my opinion, concentrate in their writings on two specific periods: the colonisation/war of independence and the nineties, the black decade.

And I got fed up with them. This is why I was glad when I found Maissa Bey‘s novel “Blue White Green“. The novel relates a story which takes place between 1962 and 1992.

I actually don’t know what to think of it. I rarely appreciate novels written by Algerian (but not only) female writers. Whenever I read one I get the feeling it’s written by a woman for a feminine readership, unlike novels written by men which are suitable for both genders.

Anyway, the novel is written in the same style as “Voices“. Maissa Bey uses her two main characters, Lilas and Ali, to narrate the story. Each their turn. It starts in 1962 with a girl and a boy and evolves with them as they grow up, love each other, get married, have their child, and ends in 1992. So we get what is supposed to be a man’s and a female’s perspective on the same events, which, I think, the author relatively succeeded in doing. A major difference between the two being Ali speaking a lot of politics and Lilas neglecting it and concentrating on the social aspects. Both characters are successively given several pages each and sometimes I felt it was too long before we got to read the other’s perspective. But this changes in the 1982 to 1992 period as only a few pages are “used” at a time, perhaps to create a feeling of speed in the reader’s mind and reflect the fact things in Algeria evolved very quickly during that period.

This is it about the form.

As for the content, I’d say the whole novel shows us how Algeria has missed the opportunity of winning a war and achieving independence. Reading “Blue White Green” is like time travelling. An Algerian reader can relate with every point it mentioned. I even think any Algerian with observation skills and some writing talent could have written it.

You see the former Moudjahid, who leaves his village to settle in a flat left by a French in Algiers, becomes an important member of the party (FLN), leaves his wife and children as they no longer match with his living standards and ambitions, marries a younger woman, lives in an old villa in the heights of Algiers and loses every connection with the people. He even goes to French hospitals before he dies…
You also see the Algerian women, you witness when some of them take off the haik to wear the European dress (they become civilisees) and when a majority switches from the haik or the European dress to the hidjab. You see them speaking of contraception and birth control. You see them adopt modern behaviours while they stick to some traditional ones.
You see the unemployment rate getting higher and higher, goods and food shortages, corruption and bribery, harga and hogra, workers not doing their job properly, etc.
You read about the conflicts and influence struggle between the francophones and the arabophones, between the Pouvoir and the Communists, the Pouvoir and the Berberists, the Pouvoir and the Islamists, and between them all.
You read about the first riots, the assassinations, 5 October 1988, the qamiss and the beard, the state-owned press, the loss of moral values and solidarity between the people, the people unhappy but not caring, the loss of the people’s confidence in themselves and in their future.

The list is too long. I read the novel and didn’t feel it was all negative, I felt it was just fine. And this despite the fact I could hardly find something positive… Strange.

I started this post by saying many Algerian writers wrote about the colonisation period and the 90s. The main characters in this novel, like in many of those dealing with the 90s, are depicted as open-minded liberals, good people, not quite religious, tolerant, intellectual, and drinking alcohol (Algerian literature often creates some kind of romanticism in drinking alcohol, and some Algerians seem to think it’s the same in actual life). Selecting such characters is politically correct in my opinion. I would like to read similar novels with the main character being from the other side, a regular Algerian, not drinking, not quite tolerant, a practising Muslim, etc. Perhaps the novel would be less interesting? But why not give it a try?

Maissa Bey’s novel has been adapted for the stage and played by the theatre company El ajouad. Read more here.


11 thoughts on “Book Review: Bleu Blanc Vert

  1. Dis donc Mnarvi, tu ne donnes pas du tout envie de lire ce bouquin 🙂
    Je partage ton opinion sur les romans des romancières algériennes. Je n’ai jamais lu Maissa Bey mais j’ai tenté de lire Nina Bouraoui et la jeune Kawtar Adhimi et j’avoue avoir abandonné la lecture au beau milieu du bouquin tellement je n’accroche pas.

    • Oui je m’en etais rendu compte seulement apres avoir termine le post.
      J’ai fait une recherche Google et j’ai trouve pas mal de retours positifs venant de lectrices etrangeres, et c’est, je pense, le public ideal pour ce roman. Le lectorat algerien par contre ne serait pas seduit a mon avis.

      Jamais lu Bouraoui et je ne connais pas Adhimi. J’essaye en general de terminer les bouquins que je commence, mais ma pire experience etait avec Djebbar. J’ai essaye de lire deux de ses oeuvres et jamais pu aller plus loin que quelques pages. J’ai deteste son style d’ecriture. (meme remarque pour Kateb Yacine, j’essaye de lire Nedjma depuis 15 ans et j’en suis a la page 20).

  2. Lol Mnarvi, it sounds like your forced yourself to go through this book a little haha.

    There are many DZ authors who don’t situate their stories around the periods you mention. I do recommend Amin Zaoui’s Festin de Mensonges, Boualem Sansal’s Le serment des barbares for example, and Yasmina Khadra’s L’Olympe des infortunes (which is so well written and edited, so poetic that I even wonder if he wrote it). I wish I could recommend Waciny Laredj but so far his work just sends me to sleep.

    I find the stories Algerian authors write thoroughly depressing though, that’s my problem with them. I always feel I need therapy after reading their work. Except for DZ detective stories!

    • I cannot say I forced myself but the book won’t make it to my favourites list 🙂

      I like Amin Zaoui and Waciny Lardj (I read him in Arabic, don’t know about you). Yasmina Khadra is excellent but I stopped reading him after the sirens of Baghdad. He also surfs on the terrorism, etc. wave and I wonder when he’s going to write the Shrines of Timbuktu… As for Sensal, I simply boycott him… Reading his interviews was already too much for me.

      Lameen said here he wished to read some Algerian Sci-Fi. It’s a good idea, but our authors may come up with even more depressing Sci-Fi works!

      • LOL. Shrines of Timbuktu! It’s such an apt Khadra title haha

        The only Algerian Sci-Fi I know was written by Safia Kettou, and published around the 70s. It’s the most depressing DZ Lit i’ve read so far, even worse than the depictions of how Algerians were made to live during colonisation by Mouloud Feraoun for instance. It’s so so dark and pessimistic.

        Sansal is a very good writer, he’s just nuts 🙂

        I don’t have access to what gets published in Algeria, all I see making it outside of DZ is either Francophone works that depicts Algerians as a failed, depressed and suicidal people, Arabophone works that depict the same, and Kabylophone still stuck in moutainous mythology (I’m not saying it is really, it’s what gets published and promoted outside). To me it corresponds to how France has always wanted to depict us: a waste of an independent state.

        I’m fine with that kind of works (dark, depressing), as it’s one part in the whole story of a people or nation. What bothers me is that it’s the only part that is visible. Although that conclusion might be slanted because of my lack of access to publications in DZ.

        • I discovered Safia Kettou on your blog but it doesn’t seem like I am going to read her 🙂

          I am afraid the picture you get from your relatively limited Algerian books can be applied to most of what is published in Algeria. Also, the accessibility to these books is limited in Algeria itself. It is almost impossible to get an Algerian novel in Arabic from Bejaia’s book-stores, and I usually have to go to Algiers or another wilaya to buy them. And the same applies to French written novels which cannot be found in other wilayas…

  3. I am going to borrow our friend ilfdinar’s favourite expression here and say ‘good job’ you managed to go through this book! I am not familiar with Algerian literature, I was offered a novel by Assia Djebar once but abandoned it after a couple of pages, it sounded so alien to me as an Algerian woman.

    I think a good algerian novel should reflect the algerian mindset rather than try and appeal to some particular readership as I think most today’s supposed writers attempt to do.

    • Re Assia Djebbar novel: It must have been the one I borrowed from you!!! I never got beyond the first few pages despite trying very hard. I wonder why we don’t have average/good storytellers like John Grisham or Jeffrey Archer…

      I agree with NG in that Algerian literature is mostly depressing, we write to tell the world that we hate our culture and our life. Most female writers shout loud that we are all oppressed, and the male writers do the same in their own way.

    • I think a good algerian novel should reflect the algerian mindset rather than try and appeal to some particular readership as I think most today’s supposed writers attempt to do.

      Let’s say it would be better to have some Algerian novels which reflect the Algerian mindset. I cannot think of any…

      • Well it really depends on what we mean by ‘Algerian litterature’ do we mean litterature produced by algerians or litterature which depicts what is authentically algerian? It is odd that most litterature by algerians, at least according to testimonies of its readers here, does not depict what we all feel is a more ‘generalized’ algerian mindset.

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