Boualem Sansal Wins Peace Prize at Frankfurt Book Fair

Boualem Sansal
Algerian Writer Boualem Sansal. Photo by Arne Dedert (EFE).

Boualem Sansal Wins Peace Prize at Frankfurt Book Fair
The Algerian writer’s life is threatened by his Islamist countrymen
El País: Boualem Sansal, Premio de la Paz en la Feria de Fráncfort
Special report from Frankfurt by Carles Geli October 14, 2011

This year the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, which serves as the climax of the annual Frankfurt Book Fair, will be given by German publishers and booksellers to the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal (born in Algeria in 1949). Formerly a high-ranking member of his country’s Ministry of Industry, Sansal’s life is threatened by Islamists (his name was found on a presumed hit list a dead terrorist was carrying); he has been removed from public service and hindered from finding work in the private sector; his wife, a schoolteacher, cannot practice her profession, and his brother was forced to close his own small business under the pressure of constant and fantastical fiscal inspections.

It all began in 1999 when, impelled by the Islamists’ burst into power, Sansal decided to write a book, a black novel about a crafty policeman who ends up denouncing corruption and religious fanaticism. It was easy to see the parallels. He automatically became an intellectual outlaw. His denunciations for the cause of North African democracy earned him this esteemed award, which in the last two years had been given to David Grossman and Claudio Margis, and which will be formally conferred on Sunday.

The work in question, Le serment des Barbares (The Oath of the Barbarians) (which has recently been published by Alianza en España; before now only his latest novel, Le village de l’Allemand ou le journal des frères Schiller (The German Muhajid), published by El Aleph y Columna and translated into Catalan, was available in Spain), launched a literary career, and in just one decade, he has produced five novels and two essays, each more valiant and clear than the last. He has declined his French publisher’s (Gallimard) suggestion that he use a pseudonym, and he continues to live in his home country, which makes him practically singular among dissident intellectuals from a region in the midst of a convulsion the layman engineer and Francophone Sansal questions consistently and without hesitation.

“I don’t believe the Arab Spring will change much. I’m a pessimist: the two great pillars of those societies, the military and the religion, are holding up, and so we’re not going to go anywhere.” Frank, as always, he calls for another kind of revolution: “if we are to change anything, it’s up to us, the people, to revolt. In general, societies in Northern Africa are very tribal and traditional; the father oppresses the mother, and the son his brother; religious fanaticism obscures and dogmatizes everything…This kind of society is more repressive than Islamist repression. We the people, we are our own enemy.”

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