L’Amour, la fantasia [Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade] by Assia Djebar is a book about the female Algerian experience. It is just as much about colonialism as it is about patriarchy. The book is divided into movements, like a musical fantasia. The sections alternate between an account of the 1840s colonization of Algeria by the French, the involvement of women in the Algerian Revolution of the 1950s (which ended in 1962), and the author’s own childhood during the Revolution. Djebar’s prose style is also varied. Some parts are in prose poetry while others are in more traditional prose.
Assia Djebar is considered the greatest female Algerian writer of the 20th-century, and for good reason. L’Amour, la fantasia is a powerful exploration of a female Algerian identity shaped by cultures, languages, and religions. Although Djebar writes in the language of the oppressor, she interrogates the accounts left by the French conquerors of Algeria. The French language is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because it provided the author with educational opportunities; Djebar was the first Muslim woman to graduate from an école normale supérieure (essentially the French “Ivy League”) in France. A curse, because the effects of colonialism continue to be felt both in Algeria and in France.
This book is challenging in both its form and its content. The novel assumes a knowledge of people and places that the Western reader probably does not have. I believe that this is a deliberate strategy to de-center the European gaze. Postcolonial fiction, such as L’Amour, la fantasia, is always challenging for those of us who are unfamiliar with its history. Since reading this book, I have been inspired to learn more about both the conquest of Algeria and in the Revolution. I also hope to read more from Djebar in the coming months.
L’Amour, la fantasia is one of my 20 Books of Summer for 2020.