Why did France give up Algeria

"I have no hatred for the French"

A train ride to Marseille becomes a journey to the truth about the Algerian war. Confronted in the compartment are an elderly Frenchman, an Algerian woman who lives in her homeland in France because of the civil war, and a young girl, the daughter of French Algerians, who always kept silent about the war of independence. The talks go back to 1957. The Algerian woman's father dies under torture by the French. The elderly gentleman serves as a recruit at the site of these atrocities. Everything had been hidden. But the facts are stronger and more pressing. A report of the highest intensity, free from thoughts of revenge. The book is an important document of humane attitudes.

What do such men look like? Is there any physical detail, a slight conspicuousness, any feature that shows how brutal they are? An indication, any physical indication that you will not shrink from anything, have no fear of the horror, or cause excruciating torment to other people? So what do men look like who find nothing in torturing other men - and occasionally women - for hours and days until they utter what they, the torturers, want to hear? The nameless woman at the center of Maïssa Bey's short novel "Ausgeblendet" will not receive an answer. But she meets someone close to these torturers, an old French man who is on duty in the Algerian war, near the village of Boghari, a good 150 kilometers south of Algiers. Here the father of this woman, an Algerian resistance fighter, was tortured and killed by the French - a story that has clear references to the past of Maïssa Bey himself.

"My father is dead because he was the leader of the FLN, the Algerian liberation movement. He was betrayed. One day we came home from school and learned that he had died under torture by the French. He had been tortured for 48 hours Before he died, he told my mother not to despair, because he believed in French justice. He believed his case would be investigated, his tormentors would go to trial and then convicted. None of that happened. That The whole thing was all the more bitter when it was claimed that he was shot while trying to escape. But this incident opened my eyes to the world in which I lived at the time. "

A world that occupies memory, that of victims and perpetrators alike. Around 40 years after Algerian independence - the novel is set at the beginning of the new millennium - the Algerian, who fled the civil war that was raging in her homeland, and an old French sit across from each other on a night train to Marseille. No one knows the other's biography. The Algerian can be recognized as such by her dark complexion, which ultimately encourages the French to speak to her. The conversation develops very slowly, the unsaid, hinted at and finally openly stated come together to form a frightening realization: that the old Frenchman was working as a doctor in the very barracks where the Algerian woman's father was murdered in 1955. Bey artistically stages the speechlessness of the two protagonists, their effort to find words for the horror of the time: a horror that invited hatred - a temptation that Bey was only able to resist with a little discipline.

"It would have been very easy for me to fall into hatred - into hatred of others, hatred of France, the country that stole my father from me and made me an orphan. To be an orphan is very difficult in Algeria, because it is almost always associated with social decline. And yet, following Aragon, I say: I do not feel any hatred of the French. Aragon said that about the Germans during World War II. Yes, one could fall into hatred . But I switched to literature and fell in love with what defines the beauty of French culture. "

Silence, repressing, trivializing - these were the techniques that the French used for decades to dispose of the colonial past. "Faded out" - the title of the novel already refers to this attempt at collective amnesia, which does not succeed. And so the emerging conversation develops a double level: the simple, apparently unequivocal of the words - and that of the feelings hidden by them, of the horror that tries to hide under them, the pain of the Algerian and the shame of the French - emotions, Both of them do not want to show, which let themselves be controlled for a while, but then break through, in the form of violent accusations on the one hand and helpless attempts on the other to excuse the crimes through the circumstances, through the reference to man, which is still used today in all cases of state terrorism deal with unpredictable and terrorist people. Only Marie approaches the past relatively uninhibitedly. She is the third person in this chamber play-like novel: a young, very young woman, just on the threshold of adulthood and therefore partaking of the grace of late birth. A grace that her language gives her, the willingness - and, hardly less important: the ability - to look at and to ask without prejudice. She, who actually has nothing to do with the war, wants to know what happened and also why the two people she spoke to are so petrified. Maïssa Bey knows how to show Marie's impartiality in all her ambivalence: On the one hand, her attitude reflects all the more clearly the embarrassment of the other two, older interlocutors, who are forever trapped in their experiences, who cannot get rid of a story, the stronger is herself, connected to memories that victims and perpetrators have burned into themselves like a tattoo. Understood in this way, they are the complete opposite of Marie, who goes through life fearlessly and completely at ease, but also naively. On the other hand, this naivety is also a good prerequisite for a new beginning, a new chapter in Franco-Algerian relations, a chapter that leaves the past behind and leads into the future. This is exactly what Maïssa Bey imagines:

"Today many people believe that France still has the right to keep a special eye on Algeria. Others think that France has simply given up on Algeria. There is a lot of discussion about this today. It seems to me that France has its own history with this war, the It has not yet come to terms with it. Only in the last ten years has France found a language for these events. Since then, books have been published in France about the war, including the torture. France is still clinging to this guilt that it is in Algeria France and Algeria are inextricably linked by history, but each country has its own life and there is no need to rewrite the past, and most importantly, it must not be allowed to strain the relationships we have today. "

Maïssa Bey has written a subtle novel, a linguistic work of art about the expressed as well as secretive memories of a political catastrophe, of a war that was fought with extreme brutality by both sides, and which continued 50 years after its end - 50 years too, the Algeria's independence is already in place - it does not seem to have passed. Why this is so, what wounds this war has inflicted and why they heal so badly, this short, great novel shows in an oppressive but also elegant intensity.

Maïssa Bey:
Faded out ". Translated from the French by Christine Belakhdar. Verlag Donata Kinzelbach, 87 pages, 16 euros