Home > 1960, 1970, 20th Century, Algerian Literature, Short Stories > Women of Algiers in their Apartment by Assia Djebar

Women of Algiers in their Apartment by Assia Djebar

December 28, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Women of Algiers in their Apartment by Assia Djebar (1980 updated in 2001) Original French title: Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement.

Women of Algiers in Their Apartment by Assia Djebar is composed of seven short stories. The first one, La nuit du récit de Fatima (Fatima’s Tale) features in my French edition but is not included in the English one. This short-story was not part of the original collection of stories from 1980. It has been added in 2001. The original collection includes:

Overture

Today

  • Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1978)
  • The Woman Who Weeps (1978)

Yesterday

  • There Is No Exile (1959)
  • The Dead Speak (1970 & 1978)
  • Day of Ramadan (1966)
  • Nostalgia of the Horde. (1965)

Postface : Forbidden Gaze, Severed Sound.

The title of the collection comes from the painting by Delacroix, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment.

Delacroix painted it in 1834, from drawings that he did during his stop to Algeria in 1832 after a trip to Marocco. It was after the French conquered Algeria in 1830 and Assia Djebar’s postface is an essay about this painting and its significance.

All the short stories in this collection are centered around the condition of women in Algeria.

The Today section shows them at home after the war of independence. The Yesterday section includes stories set in the past. One is about women who fled to Tunis during the fights in Algiers. The Dead Speak is set in the countryside, at the burial of a respected and strong old woman, Yemma Hadda. Her grand-son has just come back from the maquis and the war has been over for eight days. Yemma Hadda was a character and never remarried after her husband died, probably to preserve her freedom. We see the customs in the country and how stifling they are for women. This was my favorite story.

We encounter women who have played an important part in the war of independence. Several characters were imprisoned at the Barberousse Prison in Algiers and were tortured. They suffered as much as men fighters but didn’t get the same recognition after the war.

In Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, we’re with Anne, a pied-noir who has come back to Algiers and Sarah, who’s married to Ali, a surgeon. (A pied-noir is a French person born in Algeria before the independence) Their friendship dates back to before the war and remains the same after.

Assia Djebar pictures women waiting for their husbands at home, not really allowed to come and go as they like. Aïcha came to stay with Yemma Hadda after her husband repudiated her. The Woman Who Weeps left her husband because he beat her. All women depend on their husbands and are more or less trapped. Their world revolves around their home and their family.

Assia Djebar’s point is clear, the Algerian woman has always been locked away in houses, living with the extended family. She’s never had a lot of freedom and the war didn’t change her status that much.

The essay in the postface comes back to Delacroix and his painting. It’s unique because he was allowed to enter into the harem of a raïs’s house. He had the opportunity to see these women in their quarters and to capture their way-of-life. It’s usually hidden from the eyes and his painting is a stolen glance; the myth of the Orient was fueled by paintings like this Delacroix. 

These short stories are like a modern version of Delacroix’s painting. Assia Djebar proposes an answer to the question “What would Delacroix see if he entered into contemporary Algerian apartments?” The Algerian woman was locked up in domestic life and according to Assia Djebar, she was still there in the 1970s.

I thought it was an interesting peak into Algerian women’s lives but I had trouble connecting with Assia Djebar’s style. I’m glad I read it but I don’t think I’ll look for another of her books. 

Has anyone read Women of Algiers in Their Apartment

  1. December 28, 2020 at 9:08 pm

    I’ve not read it, but it sounds intriguing. And I’m saddened, but not really surprised, that the authors portrays the Algerian woman as still tied to the domestic setting in the 1970s. The women’s liberation movement of the time as I remember it was very focused on the situation of our sisters of colour.

    Like

    • December 28, 2020 at 10:53 pm

      They also had to focus on liberating themselves: imagine that in France, before 1965, a woman could not open a bank account without her husband’s consent!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. December 31, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    It sounds like a fascinating subject, Emma, and I was tempted to read the book until your last paragraph. What was it about the style that didn’t work for you? Anyway, Happy New Year! Here’s to more good books and billets in 2021!

    Like

    • January 1, 2021 at 11:48 am

      Don’t mind my comment about her style. What’s important is that she writes well, it’s literary and good literature. The fact that I connected or not with her style is personal and shouldn’t influence you. I felt a bit detached from the characters.

      Happy New Year to you too! And yes, more happy reading for everyone. 2020 was really the year where book lovers felt happy with her lockdown-compliant hobby!

      Liked by 1 person

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