My previous book review was dedicated to the now International Star Kamel Daoud. It was almost a year ago and, back then, Daoud was a LQO newspaper chronicler known by a few Algerians. Eleven months later and after some TV appearances in France, a lost Goncourt, a threat by a Salafi clown and a Goncourt First Novel Prize, Daoud has become Algeria’s best author and specialist in all social, Islamic and political questions… abroad.
I still believe that Daoud wouldn’t have been acclaimed that much (in France) and certainly not awarded a penny had he not written something related to Albert Camus and had his political opinions been different. For his novel is boring most of the time just like his chronicles (you can disagree) which are also sad and depressing (you must agree). Today Daoud writes in many printed and digital outlets and even has the time to post articles on his Facebook wall which are the worst among all for he seems to forget about proofreading (just like me on this blog) and to care even less about his approximations and bias. His fans may think otherwise. Good for him.
Besides looking too serious and negative, Daoud’s writing style shares something with most journalists working for francophone newspapers and with their readers. I cannot put words on it but let’s say that they use an obsolete French and they like using complex constructions to say simple things. I don’t know if it is to look smart and knowledgeable (El Watan and LQO target an élite francophone readership) or is it just the way they learnt it? Anyway, I said most journalists because the author I will speak about here does work for El Watan (writing the Point Zero Chronicle) but his writings are… refreshing and not tainted by hatred or frustration. So if you’ve been depressed by Daoud’s novel (and/or chronicles), Chawki Amari’s The Dead Ass will definitely cure you.
In the Dead Ass, and just like Daoud, Amari pays a tribute to the first “Algerian” author Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis and to his The Metamorphoses novel which is “the only Ancient Roman novel in Latin to survive in its entirety”.
The novel, divided into eleven chapters (just like the Metamorphoses), relates the story of three young (we find out they are in their forties) friends, Lyes, Mounir and Tissam who, after accidentally killing Zembrek, the donkey of a powerful retired police officer, flee Algiers with the donkey corpse and hide in the top of the Djurdjura mountains where they plan to bury it. There they meet up with Izouzen, the strange owner of a bookshop with no clients and who just killed his sixth wife (he’s killed the other five) and is looking for a seventh.
I wrote here that I wanted the Algerian authors to write less depressing novels and we’re getting there with Chawki Amari. Those who read Zero Point chronicles know he can be funny. The novel relates an absurd adventure with the attaching characters I mentioned above (Ok Izouzen is not) and others funny and/or weird such as Amel 4G, Karim PDP and Fu the Chinese. The 180 pages of the book are full of puns (which I usually dislike but I could bear them), metaphors and amusing situations and yet raise some deep questions and take a critical look at the Algerian and even human nature as well as the Algerian political/social/economic condition. The reader can therefore rise unballasted by the usual heavy sentences the likes of Kamel Daoud would use.
And weight is central in The Dead Ass. What is weight? Gravity? The universe’s weight? What is the weight of traditions, of an Algerian man, of religion, of society, or time? Why does a dead donkey weigh more than an alive one?
These questions and many others the reader can add. I read somewhere that Amari said the people read too much into his novel and found things he didn’t have in mind when writing it. I will therefore not share all what I read into it. Ok I admit I thought of Bouteflika when he mentioned the weight of time on sitting men. I am still thinking of something for the friends’ car which needs an hour rest after each hour drive. Oh and I liked the fact Izouzen’s bookshop is also a pizzeria knowing that bookshops in Algeria are transformed into restaurants.
This is it. The novel is a good read. Perhaps the Italians will feel about Apuleius (they’re all Romans after all) the same way the French did about Camus and Chawki Amari, with the help of my post (I am convinced my other post helped Daoud), would be awarded some Italian literary prize…