OBITUARY: Emmanuel Robls

Emmanuel Robls, novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, journalist: born Oran, Algeria 4 May 1914; died Boulogne 22 February 1995.

The intensification of terrorist violence around the world, in particular in Europe and North Africa, now lends a peculiar relevance to the works of the Algerian-French novelist, journalist and playwright Emmanuel Robls.

He was a man of the Mediterranean, full of that region's passionate humanity and yet with a profound hatred of violence and injustice. In over 40 books of fiction, poetry and drama, he wrote with absolute conviction of the necessity for individual freedom of thought, religion and culture in a style that was plain, but not without lyricism and humour, and always dramatically effective.

He was proud of his working-class origins as a pied-noir in the Maghreb but, as his family name indicates, he was of Spanish descent. He was brought up in the Spanish quarter of Oran, where his grandparents had settled after fleeing from persecution in Malaga. Emmanuel was an internationalist from birth, and his playmates were Arabs, Jews, Italians and pied-noir French. Among them was Albert Camus, another writer of working-class origins, who was to become his literary idol, and whose friendship was the most precious thing in his life.

Some idea of what their childhood and youth in Oran was like can be found in Robls' best-known novel, which in 1948 won the Prix Femina and the Prix Populiste, Les Hauteurs de la ville, and also in Camus's own posthumous fragments of an autobiographical novel, Le Premier homme (published for the first time last year), which he had been carrying with him in the car crash that ended his life in 1960.

Robls received an excellent formal education, first of all and perhaps most importantly in human relationships from his grandparents and from his parents, a mason and a washerwoman. They taught him honesty, kindness and the necessity for peace and social justice in a corrupt and violent society.

He attended the Collge Ardaillon in Oran and the faculty of letters at the University of Algiers, then graduated with honours after founding the first Francophone magazine, Forges. During his military service he formed his enduring friendship with Camus, who encouraged his writing and was able to help him publish his first novel, L'Action (1938). During the Second World War he served as a chief Spanish interpreter and war correspondent for the Supreme Allied Command of the Mediterranean, but still found time to compose his second book, Travail d'homme, in 1943. He also worked closely with Camus as a reporter on the independent daily Alger-Rpublicain, then founded and wrote for another liberal newspaper, Espoir- Algrie, which was indeed a light of hope in the search for peace. But the escalation of the war in Algeria forced him to seek exile in Paris in 1956.

Meanwhile, after the success of Les Hauteurs de la ville, he turned to the theatre in 1948 and wrote Montserrat, his most popular dramatic work, performed simultaneously in Algiers and Paris. It is the story of a young Spanish officer who elects to die for the liberation of Venezuela rather than betray the whereabouts of the great liberator Simon Bolivar. This play had an immense success and was played all over the world.

His next play, La Verit est morte (1952) received its first performances at the Comdie Franaise. In the same year, his novel a s'appelle l'aurore appeared and was eventually (in 1956) made into a film by Luis Buuel, one of this first Franco-Italian co-productions. Robls was always a great traveller, first as a journalist and then as a man of letters in demand as a lecturer. This is reflected in the variety of settings in his novels: Mexico in Les Couteaux (1956), Japan in L'Homme d'avril (1959), Italy in Un Printemps d'Italie (1970) and Venise en hiver (1980).

Norma ou l'exil infini (1988) is about the moral dilemma of an Argentinian exile in Paris during the Falklands war, torn between his loyalty to a land ruled by a military dictatorship and his admiration for Britain that is itself employing military force against his countrymen. It is an admirable novel whose dramatic tension never relaxes and which states clearly the author's humanist and pacifist stand. Robls' last published work before his death was L'Herbe des ruines (1992) in which he again castigates the folly of war in a terrifying description of the Allied air forces' annihilation of Pforzheim, an experience as devastating as Dresden's.

In Venise d'hiver, Robls had already written a fine love- story against a background of the Red Brigades' terrorist attacks in Italy. He had personal experience of terrorist violence in Algeria, and one of the young French-Algerian writers he had been encouraging and publishing in France in the Seuil series "Mediterrane" which he directed was Tahar Djaout, assassinated in May 1993 at Birmandreis. Robls had first met him a few years before on the occasion of an international conference in Oran dedicated to the work of Albert Camus.

Just one week before Robls died, he took the corrected proofs of his final work to the editorial offices of Seuil, a tribute to his friendship with Camus entitled Camus: frre de soleil, which is dedicated "to the memory of Tahar Djaout, brother of the sun".

James Kirkup

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?