After the increasing historical interest in the issue of Algeria in the Ottoman era, and the related political, economic, social and cultural dimensions, the compass of many Algerian novelists went to work on the same time period, knocking on the doors of historical events that open to them worlds without limits, in which imagination and truth coexist side by side Side over one narrative land.
Algerian novelists knocked on the doors of the Ottoman era, and produced texts that flew in the real world of fiction, such as what Abdel Wahab Issawi did in "The Spartan Diwan", which won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2020, and Belkacem Maghzoushin in "The Muezzin of the Mahrousa Calls in Livorne", which won the Novelist Prize Algerian Tahar Watar in its first edition in 2017, and Nabil Ben Ali, whose novel "The Spy of Algiers", published in French, won the "Francophone Pens" award in 2017.
Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, the Algerian writer and journalist, Mahoub, the companion of the novelist, breaks into his first narrative creations, "Day of the Dead" (Master House for Publishing and Distribution - Egypt, 2022, 134 pages), in which he tells us the epic of one of the midwives who ruled Algeria in exceptional circumstances that made it a washing machine for the dead. Ruler of one of the most powerful countries at the time in the Mediterranean basin.
How did an idle man, unable to find food for his day, become a washer of the dead in the palace of the Dey, before turning under the cover of a political settlement to the first man of Algeria, its “dee” and its ruler, who fights wars and sends delegations to him?
Did the Jews of Algeria at that time have any merit in taking over and installing him?
And what does all this have to do with the treasure of Charlekan, who was said to have left it behind after he and his armies were defeated on the coast of Algeria?
Perhaps that remains a mystery that not even the protagonist of the novel himself can answer: “I am of unknown parentage, the lowly who was born in the bathroom, the washer of the dead, the thief, the rogue. And in my hand will be the key to my father’s treasury, the treasury that laid the beds of kings, sultans, rulers and princes in Europe and in all parts of the world will be in my hand, and I who came from the passing whim of a sailor who left his wife to give birth in a filthy bath, I worked as a porter, and a spy, and incurred imprisonment in Kadiya and the Sultan’s prison So that I would become the Sultan... Did they not find someone better than me in this country that gave birth to the greats?
Gifted Rafiq: The novel deals with a past history, but its traces still remain (Al-Jazeera)
The novel "Sleep Dead" leads us to Algeria of the 19th century, about 20 years before the beginning of the French occupation, and sheds light on the life of Ali bin Mohammed, the poor person whom no one knows, and through him on the social and political life of Algerians in the same era, in the Algerian Eyalet that was reeling Between two contradictory scenes: the scene of a strong military state for which its neighbors in the Mediterranean basin count a thousand accounts, and the scene of a fragile state internally due to governance struggles between the Janissary army units and the midwives and wars of loyalties within the country.
The novel begins with a dream about Ali al-Ghassal, "Beginning with my childhood, which I spent in Constantine, there I was raised in my aunt's peacock hut, my nanny, to escape the plague epidemic that struck the city of Algeria. There was a large chest like a treasure, and when I opened it, I found human and animal skulls, skeletons, mills, black ashes, and a musty smell emanating from the corpses of soldiers that I had buried wholesale in the year of the famine. When I woke up tragic, I began to feel my tired body from washing the dead and digging graves, until I felt With severe pain in my neck, I did not know that fate had decreed that the sword would pass from the place of my pain, killing me in the Sultan’s Palace in Al-Geneina, in the upper part of the capital, and hanging my head in the place where the head of Sidi Mansour was hung at the bottom of the fence.
What led the novelist, Mohoub Rafik, to the character of "Ali al-Ghassal", who ascended the throne of Algeria as Daya for a few months between 1808 and 1809?
According to the same novelist, in exclusive statements to Al-Jazeera Net, he explained that "everyone who reads about a character like Ali Al-Ghassal will definitely be surprised, because he is a character full of contradictions, a biography printed by fatal leaps, reminding us of the absurdity of life; a person who started his life at the bottom of society, does not have it." Change what he steals from others, so that fates end with him at the top of a state as a ruler before he dies.
And what about this time period?
What led the writer to dive creatively into it?
In Rafiq's opinion, this era "carries all the keys to understanding the causes and motives of the French occupation", which paradoxically does not "enjoy popular and political attention. A person who is frank with himself and accepts the inherited diversity within his societal fabric,” before adding, “The Algerian when you talk to him about the Ottoman era, it is as if you were talking to him about another geography. The emotional and logical connection between him and her was cut off. Algerians wanted to absorb the crises of their present and the challenges of their future.”
The novel explores the history of the period close to the French occupation, highlighting some of its political and societal contradictions, and tries to read, mixing reality and fiction, the role of the Jews who tightened their grip on the movement of capital in the province of Algeria, which paved the way for them to grasp some of the threads of the political game and its characters, and how Their influence was growing before it collapsed on the cusp of a political coup or popular discontent.
Rafeeq does not forget to mention that he is a specialist in historical studies, and he says that before his creative adventure he did "a lot of research on the era in which the novel takes place, from the social and cultural situation such as the nature of the social fabric and its manifestations, such as celebrations, eating habits, dress and beliefs as well."
After that - Rafiq continues to say - "I researched the political situation, which revealed to me many secrets about a regime that appeared with the necessary strength, but was more fragile, and I also researched the social structure of Algeria in that era and the role of the Jews in the state of political instability that the regime was witnessing." The many coups and betrayals, and other factors that made Algeria easy prey for France.
And what does the novelist, Mawhib Rafiq, want from the readers who read his creative text?
Here he answers us by saying, "My novel cannot be said more than that it is a text that invites the reader to reflect on a past historical era, but its traces are still among us."