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From the first lines of the Silence of the gods, sixth novel by Algerian writer Yahia Belaskri, one narrator warns: ” I know. In the footsteps of ancestors, where the wedding of the sun and the stone is celebrated, in the shadow of the mountain, vertigo is born. […] Here is the story of the men who gave birth to me. They abandoned all measure and ignored the impulse of the heart, preferring the darkness of crime to it. “ Here is the reader warned: as the chapters of the book progress – like so many scenes from a play – peace will gradually give way to tragedy.
The story begins in the small “Village of the Source of the goats”, a quiet village, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Life flows there serene, as if out of time. “The stones rustle and roll at the slightest quiver of the air, the sand moves slowly, grain by grain. “ The men cultivate their plots of land, the women take care of the household and the education of the children. We meet, we find ourselves between families and neighbors, on the village square, at the café, at the grocery store, at the mosque, at school. An administrative delegate manages municipal affairs, an imam shows the right path, a marabout relieves the ailments of women and the village madman utters his prophecies in a language that no one understands.
Barbary and reconciliation
One fine day, for some unexplained reason, the only road leading to the village is cut off by a squad of soldiers sent by the central power. No one being able to derogate from the seigneurial ordinance of “His Excellency the Master, the chief of chefs”, the village finds itself immersed in total isolation, without the slightest access to the outside world. With the authority conferred on him by his stature as a major landowner, Abbas the Faun soon designated his neighbor Abdelkrim as responsible for the community’s misfortune. “If the army closes the road, it must be to punish us, he says. I tell myself that one of us is bringing the curse on the village. “
A period of suspicion and hatred then opens. Joined by partisans, Abbas will never cease to banish the innocent Abdelkrim, to the point of forcing him and all his family into exile. But the wind of violence has not finished blowing on the village and the peak is reached when Baki, the main support of Abdelkrim, then Ziani the Madman are in their turn delivered to the popular vindictiveness. The novelist nevertheless reserves for readers the outcome of a reconciliation after the barbarism.
As Abbas’s power diminished, that of women grew. Under the leadership of Zohra, the figures of Badra, Setti and Aïcha will gradually assert themselves as the architects of a general redemption. But if the novel evolves in this way, into a feminist allegory of freedom, it will nonetheless have gone through paroxysms of hatred. And although the novelist has chosen to give his story the general tone of a legend, we can easily guess that he evokes here the extremisms which have grieved Algeria and which today affect other countries or territories divided by religious or ethnic prejudices.
A precise and refined language
But Yahia Belaskri, a former journalist who became a poet and novelist during his exile in France, writes above all a book whose style allows us to transcend this immense bruising. The Silence of the Gods offers a magnificent pleasure of reading. We are caught by the elegant slowness of his sentence, charmed by his poems (“Don’t grieve me / show off my wounds / my rout is consumed / my mouth burns with bitterness”) and by its language, as precise as it is refined. One follows the destiny of his various characters by throbbing to the rhythm of their hopes and torments; one is by their side, under the incandescent sun, or in the hostility and coldness of the night. And we finally want to believe, with its heroines, in the advent of a new era.
“I am from nowhere and from all the places where women and men strive to reduce fear and stop crime, from all places where human kindness is reinvented. This is my home, my only home ”, the narrator concludes magnificently, like the reciter of a tragic epic finally appeased.
The silence of the gods, by Yahia Belaskri, ed. Zulma, 224 pages, 17.50 euros.
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In “The Silence of the Gods”, Yahia Belaskri weaves an Algerian legend