Ever since Camus, and perhaps in an inevitable reaction to his pessimism, Algeria has specialised in producing writers whose works are both hopeful and ripe with horror. The post-Independence Algerian novel is unmistakable: it will be engagé, unrelentingly violent, and its plot will gyrate around either the revolution (1954-1962) or the civil war (1992-2002). This is not to say that these books are predictable; in fact quite the opposite.
Abduction, Anouar Benmalek's seventh novel, is a case in point. Aziz loves his wife Meriem, is a doting father to daughter Shehera, and holds down a job at the zoo in Algiers. In theory, his only concern should be the uninhibited sexuality of the seven bonobo chimpanzees, a gift from the Republic of Congo. Everything changes when Shehera is kidnapped. Her captor makes himself clear: Aziz will be forced to kill, and watch others kill, in the hope of retrieving her. When Aziz protests, the kidnapper retorts: "Still insisting on your rights in such a crazy country?" What turned the kidnapper mad is grief, whose origins constitute the missing piece of the thriller's puzzle.
"Those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return," wrote WH Auden. This is Abduction's greatest achievement, linking a crime in 2007 to one perpetrated over 50 years earlier. It is a journey through history, but also through the psychology of pain.
In a talk in 2008, Benmalek said: "Torture is one of the ways of demonstrating that the citizen's body belong to the boss." The physical and psychological torment inflicted on every character in Abduction is proof of this. Benmalek didn't have to look far for inspiration: his own daughter was once threatened by extremists. Considering her father's outspokenness, this is unsurprising, but Aziz is supposedly a nobody – Benmalek's way of saying that only the bureaucrats and soldiers who have hijacked Algeria's future since 1965 are shielded from the retribution for past crimes. Everyone else is in danger, or traumatised, or dead.
Simon Pare's translation proves masterful in clinching Benmalek's weighty but pacey narration and its garrulous madness. On the heels of Dowlatabadi's The Colonel, Abduction is another well-chosen and expertly-handled addition to the Arabia list.Reuse content