OBITUARY:Rachid Mimouni

The death of the Algerian writer Rachid Mimouni at the age of 49 has cut short a brilliant literary career.

Mimouni had been living in Morocco for the past two years, having gone there when life in Algeria became intolerable for intellectuals, and especially for those who openly condemn social and political conditions in the country. His literary reputation was established in 1982 after the appearance of his novel Le Fleuve detourne ("The Diverted River"), the first of his works to be published in France. In a relatively short time he secured a position as one of the most widely read Francophone writers of this century.

Rachid Mimouni was born in 1945, near Algiers. He went to Algiers University where he graduated in 1968 with a degree in sciences. He worked at the Institute of Industrial Development before going to Montreal for further study. He returned to Algeria two years later to embark on a teaching career. When his literary reputation was established, he gave up teaching to concentrate on writing.

His first two novels, published in Algeria, have been overshadowed by his later masterpieces, most of which have won literary prizes and been translated into different languages, including English. Yet anyone familiar with his work can detect in this early novels the signs of a writer who would one day make his mark. In his second novel to be published in Algeria, Une Paix vivre (1983, "A Peace to Live With"), he portrays a group of young Algerians who, having grown up in a war-torn country, try to cope with life in peacetime. In his subsequent novels, published in France, he condemns those in power who squander the wealth of nations, and oppressors who erode the freedom of others.

Throughout his life Mimouni stressed the important task of the writer as the spokesperson for those unable to speak for themselves. He often stated that he believed in "freedom, justice and love" for all. He warned against fundamentalism, and gives reasons for its rise and popularity in some of this works, notably a non-fictional work, De la barbarie en general et de l'integrisme en particulier (1992, "Barbarism in General and Fundamentalism in Particular"), and in his last published novel, La Malediction (1993, "The Misfortune").

Mimouni published seven novels and a collection of short stories, La Ceinture de l'ogresse (1990), translated into English as The Ogre's Embrace. His other work to appear in an English translation is L'Honneur de la tribu (1989, The Honour of the Tribe). In spite of the fact that nearly all the novels and short stories are set in Algeria, the majority, and especially his later works, have a universal appeal and relevance. One of his most successful novels, Une Peine vivre (1991, "A Life Hard to Bear"), is set in a fictitious place. The work is a disturbing and vivid account of the rise to power and eventual demise of a ruthless dictator in an unidentified oil-producing country, once ruled by a Western superpower. The events of the novel are depicted from the point of view of the dictator himself, and the novel opens as he is about to be executed after having been deposed. The author probes the mind of the dictator, trying to understand the motivating force behind his cruelty.

In an earlier novel, Tombeza (1984), Mimouni had tried to analyse the thoughts and actions of another much-hated character, the eponymous Tombeza. The events in that novel take place in a hospital, the setting of La Malediction. In this, his last work, the hospital has a special significance, as it is the place where people come into the world and leave it. In retrospect, this seems sadly prophetic, as it was in a hospital bed, in Paris, of acute viral hepatitis, that Mimouni died.

Farida Abu-Haidar

Rachid Mimouni, writer: born Boudouaou, Algeria 20 November 1945; died Paris 12 February 1995.

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