Reading Ernest Hemingway in Algeria.
This overview is meant to provide a reader who may be unfamiliar with Arabic culture with a timeline and a sense of the significance of translations of Hemingways work and their relationship to each other. This note, however, seeks to advance these observations by exploring what is at stake in Hemingway's reputation in Algeria by probing not only what Hemingway stands for in Algerian culture and why he matters to Algerians but also why Hemingway's reputation in Algeria should matter to Hemingway scholars. It is clear that Hemingway and his work, most notably The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls, have had a considerable effect on Algerian culture. In this essay, I highlight some aspects of Hemingway's influence and explore how his works are received and intrepreted in Algeria.
Algerians from the 1970s through the 1980s were very fond of classical Hollywood cinema. They eagerly waited for a new movie to see either in the theater or on Algerian TV, and afterwards they discussed its merits and flaws in the open air or in the cafe. In these discussions, they frequentlty sought to understand the values and themes according to their own understanding, perceptions, ideologies. Two instances of those unforgettable and beloved movies were the 1958 and the 1990 French adaptations of The Old Man and the Sea, which were shown on Algerian TV regularly thorughout the 1980s and 1990s. The former was directed by John Sturges and starred Spencer Tracy as Santiago. The latter was directed by Jud Taylor and featured Anthony Quinn in the role of the Old Man. There was only one channel, so the Algerian people watched movies altogether like one big family. Indeed, this gave much flavor to the films and helped give them a special status that allowed them to resonate in the Algerian psyche.
In addition to this, two excerpts from The Old Man and the Sea were introduced into the national Algerian school curriculum in the 1990s. They were taught in the French textbooks of both the seventh grade of middle school and the first year of high school. In fact, those excerpts were based on the translation of Jean Dutourd published by Gallimard in 1952.
One could argue that the Algerian ministry of education aimed to teach the young generations: "But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated" (103). Their hope was likely that pupils would identify with the story and reappropriate the sentence as "the Algerian people were not made for defeat. The Algerian people could be destroyed but not defeated." The pupils might also relate Hemingway's parable to the fact that Algeria was ruined during the French colonial period but eventually came out of colonialism victorious. Young Algerians would grow up with the idea of not succumbing to any hardship either at school or elsewhere. In other words, they should track the path of their ancestors who fought boldly and resisted incessantly against the French rule until they deservedly got their independence on July 5th, 1962.
For Whom the Bell Tolls can also be read through the lens of the French colonial period. Pilar, for example, fights boldly against the Fascists and firmly believes in the cause. She can be compared to the Algerian women like Zohra Drif (1934-), Djamila Bouhired (1935-), Hassiba Ben Bouali (1938-1957) and Djamila Bouazza (1938-2015) and Djamila Boupacha (1938-), who fought valorously and resisted against the French colonizer. They had so unshakable faith in their cause and suffered greatly for it. In addition, Pilars band as well as El Sordo's collaborate together to fight against the Fascists. Similarly, all the Algerian men and women, united together to evict the colonists from Algeria. El Sordo's band is brutally killed by the Fascists. Likewise, the Algerians were mercilessly massacred by the French. In this respect, L'Opium and le Baton (The Opium and the Stick) and La Bataille d'Alger (The Battle of Algiers), Les Portes du Silence (The Doors of Silence) and Le Vent des Aures (The Wind of Aures) are Algerian movies that vivdly reveal how the barbarity of the French was confronted by the stoicism of the Agerians. There are other literary texts that have served a similar purpose. For instance, Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down (1942) recounts how the Nazis invaded a Norwegian village by surprise during World War II. Although the villagers are oppressed, they are unconquered. Indeed, thanks to this play-novella, Steinbeck was invited by the Norwegian king to receive a medal because it urged the Norwegians to resist the Nazis.
Hemingway continues to be significant in Algeria even today. Mohamed Arab Ait Kaci translated The Old Man and the Sea into Kabyle, a Berber language spoken by the Kabyle people in the north and northeast of Algeria, under the title Amghar d Yillel in 2013. In an interview with Algerie Express newspaper, Ait Kaci said that his translation came into being thanks to an amalgam of gigantic efforts of his friends Abdennour Hadj-Said, Brahim Tazaghart, and Baya Ait Kaci, all of whom worked closely with him, making editorial suggestions. He emphasized that his translation was not an interpretation but rather a faithful presentation that kept the core of the novella. To do this, Kaci claims to have translated the work word-by-word from English to Kabyle in an effort to maintain its original beauty (aokas-aitsmail.forumactif.info).
In an interview, Ait Kaci told me that The Old Man and the Sea is a simple book with profound ideas. He further said that translated the novella sentence-by-sentence, chapter-by-chapter. Then, he translated it a second time comparing the second version to the first. After that, he edited it several times without looking at the original one. According to his testimony, Kabyle readers really appreciate his translation a great deal. It is so admired in Kabylia that students at Mouloud Mammeri University of Tizi Ouzou, University of Bejaia, and University of Bouira use it in their Bachelor and Master theses. He concluded that The Old Man and the Sea teaches the next generations courage, perseverance, humility, respect for wisdom, and the struggle for survival.
Ait Kaci's translation should be considered as a pivotal cultural event for both Algeria and the United States. It is significant that the themes of The Old Man and the Sea are so universal and relevant that the novel was translated not only into classical Arabic but also into a regional language. It demonstrates that Algeria is open to universal literature and implies that Hemingway could resonate deeply and authentically in Algerian culture since this Berber language was originally spoken by the indigeneous people of Algeria.
On 11 February 2017, Salim Skander reported in El Watan, a French-speaking daily Algerian newspaper that the people of Mostaganem, a coastal city in the northwest of Algeria, witnessed an outstanding event where a statue of the Old Man, Santiago, with the marlin was erected in a town called Kherrouba, Mostaganem. This occasion can be deemed as another significant aspect of Ernest Hemingways impact on Algerian culture. The resin statue was designed by a student named M. Kerroum who attended the Regional School of Fine Arts of Mostaganem (8). In the same newspaper, the writer quotes this student's impression of The Old Man and the Sea and how conceived of this monumental project:
As I traveled through some European cities, I saw symbols belonging to all the civilizations of the world. I would like to do as much in my city. I started this dream with a tribute to my favorite book, especially since Mostaganem is a fishing town, which has much in common with Havana, where the story of the novel takes place. (8)
Furthermore, Skander theorizes that many people were bewitched by this statue that was created to prompt young readers to discover new horizons and to probe into other cultures. For the ceremony, the governor of Mostaganem solemnly noted, "it is another way of inviting visitors to discover a giant of universal literature and display our pluralism" (8). It is also suggestive of the beautiful coexistence between Algerian and American cultures despite their sizeable differences, and most of all, it affirms that Algeria continues to hold Ernest Hemingway in very high esteem. The fact that there is no other statue related to Hemingway in the Arab world or Africa implies that Algeria has unique interest in this writer among the African and Arab countries. It should be noted that through this statue in Kherouba, Mostaganem, becomes a Hemingway site, which has its counterparts in Key West, Florida; in Pamplona, Spain; and in Havana and Cojimar, Cuba; and in Lignano, Hemingway Park, Italy.
It is remarkable that Hemingway has held such a consistent place in the Algerian news. Whenever someone wants to refer to death, patience, perseverance, victory and deafeat, Hemingway and his novels, especially The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls, are referenced. Hemingway and his novels are frequently mentioned in a range of publications, including El Watan, Le Soir d'Algerie, Liberte, le Quotidien d'Algerie, and Le Matin d'Algerie. Four main news stories stand out as particularly significant.
On 2 February 2003, Liberte reported in an article, "A General Strike and Backgrounds: For Whom the Bell Tolls" that the strike which was made by the Central Trade Union in Algeria sought to denounce the executive branch headed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and to counter his attempt to run for a new term in 2004 by sensitizing the citizens to the deterioration of the socio-economic situation of the workers under his presidency. Hemingway's influence is strikingly apparent here since For Whom the Bell Tolls is placed within an Algerian context to show that the bell tolls for the Algerian government at the hands of the Central Trade Union (liberte-algerie.com). In addition to this, on 28 May 2011, Nadia Agsous explains in her article "The Sun Goes Down Too," published in El Watan, that the pitfalls that Ernest Hemingway experienced during his lifespan teach us that writing is indeed an "art" that requires both patience and perseverance (12-13). On 14 March, 2012, Le Quotidien d'Algerie published the letter by the Algerian activist Mourad Dhina under the title "Mourad Dhina : A Letter from Prison." In his letter, Dhina, who has opposed the Algerian political system since the 1990s, alludes to The Old Man and the Sea through the analogy that he makes between his constant struggle against the Algerian government and that of Santiago. He senses that he could be destroyed by his government but not defeated (lequotidienalgerie.org). And on 20 March 2012, Le Matin d'Algerie published an article entitled "For Whom the Bell Tolls in Algeria," written by Mimi Missiva in which she associates the novel with the bloody Algerian civil war of the 1990s (lematindz.net).
Hemingway studies concern a writer who transcends his national context. The idea that Hemingway is well- received in Algeria opens a new horizon for Hemingway scholars to learn more about the interaction between American and Algerian cultures and to understand Hemingway within an Algerian context. Reading and studying Hemingway in Algeria may also provide American scholars, in particulars a bridge to understanding and appreciating Islamic culture. In other words, all the topics discussed here are relevant and timely, and perhaps exceedingly so at the present moment given the institutionalization of Islamophobia occurring throughout the west. The questions and contextual information have the potential to expand knowledge about Hemingway, writing, literature, and the ways cultures and social traditions interact. Islamic culture and Arabic culture have intellectual traditions that are rich and layered, and not often recognized in the US (or in the west more generally).
I would like to thank Mimi Gladsteinfor her help preparing this essay for publication.
Agsous, Nadia. "Le Soleil Se Couche Aussi." El Watan, 28 May 2011, pp. 12-13.
Bouazizi, Mohamed Salah, et al. le communique en Francais: 7eme annee de l'enseignement de base. Alger : Centre National Pedagogique, n.d. Web. 16 June, 2018.
Dhina, Mourad. "Mourad Dhina : Lettre de Prison." lequotidienalgerie.org, 31 Oct., 2017.
Djilali, Keltoum, et al. Francais: Premiere Annee Secondaire. Alger: Office National des Publications Scolaires, 2005-2006.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Scribner's. 1952.
Manseri, Silya. "L'AUTEUR DE LA VERSION KABYLE <<LE VIEIL HOMME ET LA MER>> D'HEMINGWAY A AE : <<le lectorat c'est a nous a le batir et le former>>." aokas-aitsmail.forumactif.info, 10 Oct., 2017.
Skander, Salim. " Kherrouba : Une Statue en Hommage a Hemingway." El Watan, 11 February 2017, p. 8.
S.H. "UNE GREVE GENERALE ET DES ARRIERE-PENSEES: Pour qui sonne le glas?". www.liberte-algerie.com, 27 Oct., 2017.
Chaker Mohamed Ben Ali
University of 20th August 1955, Skikda, Algeria
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|Author:||Ali, Chaker Mohamed Ben|
|Publication:||The Hemingway Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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