Assia Djebar So Vast the Prison: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9781583220672

So Vast the Prison: A Novel

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9781583220672: So Vast the Prison: A Novel

So Vast the Prison is the double-threaded story of a modern, educated Algerian woman existing in a man's society, and, not surprisingly, living a life of contradictions. Djebar, too, tackles cross-cultural issues just by writing in French of an Arab society (the actual act of writing contrasting with the strong oral traditions of the indigenous culture), as a woman who has seen revolution in a now post-colonial country, and as an Algerian living in exile.
In this new novel, Djebar brilliantly plays these contradictions against the bloody history of Carthage, a great civilization the Berbers were once compared to, and makes it both a tribute to the loss of Berber culture and a meeting-point of culture and language. As the story of one woman's experience in Algeria, it is a private tale, but one embedded in a vast history.
A radically singular voice in the world of literature, Assia Djebar's work ultimately reaches beyond the particulars of Algeria to embrace, in stark yet sensuous language, the universal themes of violence, intimacy, ostracism, victimization, and exile.

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Review:

In So Vast the Prison, Assia Djebar takes full advantage of the novel as a flexible art form, moving majestically between narrative and history, bending the book's shape to reflect its concerns. In rich, poetic prose, she describes the women of Algeria and their inner lives of faith, longing, and grief. Aside from their aesthetic value, Djebar's innovative narrative strategies create an additional poignancy, as the artistic freedom she enjoys rubs against the restrictions placed on the women whom she portrays.

The novella-sized first section begins in the capital city of Algiers, in the world of a post-colonial middle class that straddles French and Algerian cultures. The narrator, an educated married woman, is consumed by love for a younger man who works in her office building. This secret, platonic love could happen almost anywhere: her actions are restricted less by the Islamic society than by her emotional commitment to her marriage and "the watchmen of bourgeois respectability." But when the narrator confides her hidden feelings to her husband, his response makes clear Algeria's very different history and culture.

He struck and I slipped to the floor.... then I heard him, as if echoing from within a prison cell in which he found himself, in which he wrestled, in which he was trying to keep me. From inside this nightmare space, inside this bodily fear, my eyes closed, and hidden under my arms, under my lifted elbows, under my already bloody hands, I heard and I would almost have answered with a laugh, not a madwoman's laugh nor one of tearfulness, but the laugh of a woman who was relieved and struggling to free herself. "Adulteress!" he repeated, "Anywhere, except this city of iniquity, you would deserve to be stoned!"
The book's focus then shifts to a historical account of the relationship between Muslim women and the lost languages of North Africa (enigmatic traces of which have survived), as Djebar explores the symbiotic relationship that women have had with words, serving as the culture's literary caretakers, "preserv[ing] the writing while their men wage war in the sun or dance before the fires at night."

Djebar combines themes of narrative and erased histories in the third section, as the narrator seeks to "recapture the deep song strangled in the throat of my people"--that is, to convey (and thus preserve) the lives of the contemporary Algerian women who have been veiled and silenced. The section's short narratives, mingled with the experiences of the narrator while making a film in rural Algeria, are fascinating and inspiring. This Algeria is a world of women-only ritual dances, bride thieves, gossip in the hammams (public baths), sorceresses, and an unforgettable 8-year-old shepherdess who gazes at the narrator "without real curiosity but with fond indulgence." In Djebar, these stories have found a courageous, gifted teller--though one who is sadly aware that her voice is a lonely substitute for what should be a chorus. --John Ponyicsanyi

About the Author:

With her Berber and Muslim roots, her accomplishments as an Arab woman at the highest echelons of Western society in France and America, and her relentless output as a novelist and filmmaker, ASSIA DJEBAR speaks for the women, the poor, victims of both terrorism and the “War on Terror” that began in Algeria forty years before it arrived on US soil, and provides a much needed alternative voice to the litanies of the “experts.” Djebar won the Neustadt Prize in 1996, Germany’s Peace Prize in 2000, and in 2005 became the first Arab woman elected to the Académie Française. She is Silver Professor of Francophone Literature and Civilization at NYU. Djebar lives in Paris and New York.

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Book Description Seven Stories Press,U.S., United States, 2001. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. So Vast the Prison is the double-threaded story of a modern, educated Algerian woman existing in a man s society, and, not surprisingly, living a life of contradictions. Djebar, too, tackles cross-cultural issues just by writing in French of an Arab society (the actual act of writing contrasting with the strong oral traditions of the indigenous culture), as a woman who has seen revolution in a now post-colonial country, and as an Algerian living in exile.In this new novel, Djebar brilliantly plays these contradictions against the bloody history of Carthage, a great civilization the Berbers were once compared to, and makes it both a tribute to the loss of Berber culture and a meeting-point of culture and language. As the story of one woman s experience in Algeria, it is a private tale, but one embedded in a vast history.A radically singular voice in the world of literature, Assia Djebar s work ultimately reaches beyond the particulars of Algeria to embrace, in stark yet sensuous language, the universal themes of violence, intimacy, ostracism, victimization, and exile. Bookseller Inventory # AAT9781583220672

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Book Description Seven Stories Press,U.S., United States, 2001. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. So Vast the Prison is the double-threaded story of a modern, educated Algerian woman existing in a man s society, and, not surprisingly, living a life of contradictions. Djebar, too, tackles cross-cultural issues just by writing in French of an Arab society (the actual act of writing contrasting with the strong oral traditions of the indigenous culture), as a woman who has seen revolution in a now post-colonial country, and as an Algerian living in exile.In this new novel, Djebar brilliantly plays these contradictions against the bloody history of Carthage, a great civilization the Berbers were once compared to, and makes it both a tribute to the loss of Berber culture and a meeting-point of culture and language. As the story of one woman s experience in Algeria, it is a private tale, but one embedded in a vast history.A radically singular voice in the world of literature, Assia Djebar s work ultimately reaches beyond the particulars of Algeria to embrace, in stark yet sensuous language, the universal themes of violence, intimacy, ostracism, victimization, and exile. Bookseller Inventory # AAT9781583220672

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