What do the Algerian French think of Algeria?

Algerian warA book that nobody liked

It took forty years before the then French President Jacques Chirac inaugurated the first official memorial to the Algerian War on Quai Branly in Paris in 2002. More than strange for one of the bloodiest colonial conflicts of the 20th century, which divides French society to this day and is often exploited by politicians, especially during election campaigns. Despite its extreme brutality, human rights violations and hundreds of thousands of victims, the Algerian War of Independence of 1954-1962 was downright ignored by a large part of the French population. In France in the 1950s one had different things to do: the victory against the Germans, the idea of ​​France as a world power, the industrial boom, the myth of the united Resistance - the dirty war in North Africa did not fit into the picture. One of the people who brought him into the picture back in 1957 was the Parisian journalist and author Daniel Anselme. With "Adieu Paris" he threw the truth in the face of his compatriots, both the nationalists, who wanted to subjugate the Algerians unconditionally, and the communists, who instrumentalized the war primarily for their own domestic political purposes, and not least the large, silent majority . "Adieu Paris" tells of three Algerian fighters who spend a few days on leave from the front in Paris. Lachaume, the intellectual, Valette, the communist, and Lasteyrie, the womanizer. After 21 months at the front, they reach the French capital, which looks like a "bizarre universe" to them. Hypocritical, dreary, hostile and absurd - these are the words Daniel Anselme puts into the mouths of his three protagonists. Lachaume, who had returned from the front, left his girlfriend because of the "difficult situation". Now he is sitting alone in the shared apartment. When he meets his childhood friend Thévenin in the café, Lachaume realizes that the annoying colonial war in North Africa is dividing French society.

"'Come on, tell me!' He ordered, mouthful of herring from Scheveningen. 'Tell me what?' Grumbled Lachaume. Panic seized him at the thought of having to report on the Algerian war, here, in the midst of all these people, who sat in silence in the hope that the conversation at the next table would be more interesting than their own. No, he had nothing to say to them, these people for whom he felt neither sympathy nor contempt. "

How does it look in your head afterwards?

Neither sympathy nor contempt - it is more of a hidden anger that the soldier and former English teacher Lachaume feels. Anger about the ignorance of his compatriots and about the fact that he should hold up his head for them in Algeria. He is mocked in the street because he does not fight with the parachutists, but only with the infantry. In the café he is even referred to as a "dirty German" because he looks like a tired, defeated soldier. The French Communist Party, the second strongest political power at the time of the Algerian War and a declared opponent of the war, also comes off anything but good in Daniel Anselme's novel. When his hero Lachaume is invited to dinner with the family of his colleague Valette on the front, the "ghost of war enters the room" - the central scene of the novel. A family friend, a loyal communist, explains: The more soldiers there are in Algeria, the more the party's pacifist position will be strengthened in the mother country. One should sign a party petition against the war right away, he demands. The soldier Lachaume's collar bursts.

"Don't you think we need a few new ideas? (...) Where do you think five hundred thousand young men cause more turmoil, here in the families or down there? Our youth is gone, get it? And Our youth and our entire life (...) What do we get out of it, provided we continue at all? A scooter perhaps, of the premium money (...) But what else? How does it look in our head afterwards? in the soul? "

"Nobody will like this novel"

Daniel Anselmes, three Algerian fighters, wander disoriented and mostly drunk between bars and hotels through the gloomy, hostile streets of Paris, always aware that their return to the front in Algeria is inevitably getting closer. Anselme gives this backdrop between anger and melancholy in his reportage-like descriptions of scenes and cities and with his tangible everyday language all the more impact. "This novel will not please anyone," predicted one of the few reviews of Daniel Anselm's book when it was published in 1957. The critic should be proved right, because the original title "La permission" has disappeared from the French book market as if by magic. It was not until a publisher from New York rediscovered Daniel Anselme's novel a few years ago. Julia Schoch has now translated the book congenially into German and provided it with an extremely instructive afterword on the circumstances of its publication.

"Adieu Paris" is an urgent plea not only against the Algerian war, but against the war and the devastating consequences that it carries to the core of society and the individual.

Daniel Anselme: "Adieu Paris", novel, Arche Literatur Verlag, Zurich 2015, from the French by Julia Schoch, 206 pages