Home > 2000, 21st Century, Crime Fiction, Khadra Yasmina, State of the Nation > Dead Man’s Share by Yasmina Khadra.

Dead Man’s Share by Yasmina Khadra.

La part du mort by Yasmina Khadra 2004. English title: Dead Man’s Share translated by Aubrey Botsford

Disclaimer: I had to translate the quotes myself and I found it rather difficult. So be nice to my clumsy efforts.

En Algérie, les portes du salut sont aussi imprévisibles que les trappes du non-retour. Question de baraka. Ou vous l’avez ou vous ne l’aurez jamais. In Algeria, the doors to redemption are as unpredictable as the no-return doors. Question of luck. Either you have it or you don’t.

I read La part du mort by Yasmina Khadra a couple of months ago and I have to say I don’t remember much about the plot. But to be honest, the plot is not the most important thing in this book, which is odd for a crime fiction novel. Yasmina Khadra is the pen name of Mohammed Moulessehoul. It is made of his wife’s two first names. He was an officer in the Algerian army during the civil war in the 1990s and he had to hide his identity as a writer because of censorship. His wife supported him and signed all the publishing contracts in her name, on his behalf. Read more about his life, here in French and here in English.  I’m afraid it’s a lot more detailed in French than in English.

Khadra_mortWe’re in Algeria, on the verge of the civil war of the 1990s. Llob is a superintendant at Alger’s police department. Professor Allouche, an old acquaintance who manages a psychiatric ward asks him to come and visit him. He’s worried because one of his patients has been reprieved by an official commission and he’s free to go. Professor Allouche thinks a dangerous murderer is about to get lose on the Alger streets. He asks Llob to intervene to prevent a crime. At the same moment, Llob is concerned about one of his men, Lino. He’s been seen all over Alger on the arm of an unsavory woman, former girlfriend of an apparatchik. Lino is totally infatuated with her and spends too much money to cater her every whim. She’s close to several Algerian statesmen and this puts Lino in a dangerous position. Llob will have to do something about it.

The plot is interesting to follow but the book is fascinating for its picture of Algeria. It dissects the workings of the Algerian State. It shows the corruption, the inability to build a democracy after the independence. The picture is not pretty. The house seems rotten to the core. Former FLN fighters took the power and confiscated it. Their aura as independence heroes makes them untouchable. You don’t criticize a war hero. Khadra digs back to the year 1962 and the massacres of Harkis, the Algerians who were pro-French during the war. When the French left the country in 1962, most of the Harkis were left behind.

The country’s new found independence is built on blood. The war was ugly and its immediate aftermath just as much. The novel is full of thoughts about violence, its link with human nature. Khadra tries to understand its raw power.

On tue pour ne pas chercher à comprendre. C’est l’aboutissement d’un échec, l’émargement d’un désaveu. Le meurtre est l’inaptitude de l’assassin au raisonnement, l’instant où l’homme recouvre ses réflexes de bête fauve, où il cesse d’être une entité pensante. Le loup tue par instinct. L’homme tue par vocation. Il se donnerait toutes les motivations possibles qu’il ne justifierait pas son geste. One kills to avoid looking for explanations. Killing is the ultimate failure, the signing of a retraction. Assassination is the murderer’s inability to think, the moment a man resorts to his wild beast’s reflexes and ceases to be a thinking entity. Wolves kill by instinct. Men kill by vocation. Mankind could find themselves all the reasons they’d want, nothing can justify their killing.

There’s a lot of soul searching by Llob. He was a member of the FLN army too. His job puts him in contact with political power and with the small people. He sees the former fighters take advantage of their position in the country and get rich on the back of the country they fought for. He deplores that illiterate and undereducated men are in a position to exercise power. He sees the people on the streets struggle to have a decent life. Khadra brings Alger’s streets to life, like here:

C’est un gamin d’une douzaine d’années, maigre comme ses chances. Il porte un pantalon fripé, un tricot pourri et une bonne partie de la misère nationale sur les épaules. Les garçons comme lui sont légion. It’s a twelve years old boy, as slim as his chances. He’s wearing creased trousers, a rotten jumper and a good dose of the national misery on his shoulders. Boys like him are legion.

Llob is an interesting policeman with a fulfilling private life. That’s a change, as far as crime fiction is concerned. He’s been married to Mina for years, they have children and a peaceful family life. Llob is also an opportunity for Khadra to reflect on the place of women in the Algerian society.

Je me suis souvent demandé ce qu’il serait advenu de moi si Mina ne m’avait pas épousé. Elle est plus que ma femme, elle est ma belle étoile à moi. Rien que de la sentir près de moi me remplit d’une incroyable assurance. C’est fou comme je l’aime mais, dans un pays où l’interdit dispute au harem les palpitations de notre âme, il serait encore plus fou de le lui déclarer. I’ve often wondered what would have become of me had Mina not married me. She’s more than my wife, she’s my own lucky star. Just to feel her beside me fills me with an incredible dose of assurance. I’m crazy about her but in a country where social constraint and the image of harem fight against each other for the fluttering of our souls, it would be even crazier to make her that declaration.

Kind of sad, seen from my side of the Mediterranean.

I’m not sure Khadra is a real crime fiction writer. I think the genre allows him to voice his thoughts about Algeria at the time. It’s really well done and it’s a healthy read for French people. It’s an opportunity for us to read about the war in Algeria from the other side. It was an ugly war, one that left terrible scars on both sides and too much remains untold. Ironically, Khadra writes in French, the language of colonization is the one he chose to express his talent. I don’t know if his speaking Arabic brings something to his use of the French language but I loved his style. I have many quotes like this one:

Lorsque Bliss vous accueille sous le parvis du paradis, comprenez que l’enfer a déménagé. When Bliss welcomes you under the porch of paradise, you know that hell has moved in.

It’s even better in English when you throw the meaning of bliss in the middle of it.

I bought La part du mort by Yasmina Khadra at Quais du Polar thinking it was the first in the Llob series when it’s not. I was mistaken because it’s written on the back of the book, so please Folio, correct this for the next edition.

  1. June 7, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    I’ve read a lot of Yasmina Khadra , although not any of his crime fiction . It’s nice to see he is finally being translated into English .

    Like

    • June 8, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      Several of his books are available in English.
      It’s my first Khadra, I always hesitate to read books about wars. I guess it hold me back.
      This one was enlightening.

      Like

  2. June 7, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    He does have a rather unique style and distinct voice, doesn’t he? Like you, I wonder if he is really a crime fiction writer, in that he doesn’t seem to be that much interested in plotting, but more in all that goes on around the main story. Which doesn’t detract at all from my enjoyment of his books.

    Like

    • June 8, 2015 at 10:11 pm

      He has a great style. I’ve seen people commenting about it, saying it’s too polished. That’s not my impression. I liked the way he played with the language.
      This novel seemed more “state of the Nation” than “crime fiction”. I enjoyed it anyway.

      Like

  3. June 7, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    I bought this one Emma after you recommended it. There are a few in the series translated into English.

    Like

    • June 8, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      I think you’ll like it, just like I think you’d like Dominique Manotti.

      Like

      • June 11, 2015 at 2:46 am

        I read about 1/3 of the Manotti and then became distracted by another book.

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  4. June 7, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Great review and commentary, Emma. I recall you mentioning this author in your Quais du Polar posts, so it’s good to hear more. It sounds like an unflinching, eye-opening portrait of Algeria. Probably too gruelling for where I am right now, but it does sound like an excellent book.

    Like

    • June 8, 2015 at 10:13 pm

      It’s a great book. It’s not the same genre but it’s as eye-opening as Death in Beirut by Tawfiq Yusuf ‘Awwad.

      Like

  5. June 7, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    Btw, how did you think this novel compared to the other one you read?

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  6. June 8, 2015 at 2:26 am

    I mis-read the first few lines and thought you’d read two by this author.

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    • June 8, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      Yes, it was my first Khadra.

      Like

  7. June 16, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    I’ve read two Khadras, both pre-blog. His really famous one, The Swallows of Kabul, and The Attack about an assimilated Israeli Arab doctor whose wife kills herself without warning (to him) in a suicide bomb attack leading him to question whether he ever really knew her. I think he has real talent.

    The Attack reads in some ways like crime fiction, in that it’s an investigation by the doctor into what led his wife to blow herself up to kill strangers, but it’s focus is elsewhere. I didn’t realise he’d written series novels. Nice reminder, as I should read more by him.

    Like

    • June 17, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      I’m aware of his other novels but I tend to shy away from war novels. They seem really interesting though and I think he has talent too.

      Like

      • June 18, 2015 at 7:06 pm

        I wouldn’t call either a war novel. The Attack is much more an examination of what drives someone to such actions, and perhaps more how you can be married to a person and yet discover you don’t know them.

        Like

  1. July 30, 2015 at 11:35 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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