‘Women of Algiers in their Apartment’ by Assia Djebar, translated by Marjolijn De Jager

When working on the writing of Indian Partition, I was drawn into reading literatures of partitions and apartheids elsewhere, in Ireland, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, in an odd way, French-Algeria. I’d read a paper about the impossibility of translating literatures of Partition, literatures that dwell, inevitably, in the in-between, in the impossible space between languages, cultures, and competing national imaginaries. I picked up Assia Djebar’s collection after encountering a quote from her… which I can no longer find… something about her interest in sounds: limpid French and perfect Arabic. The way Djebar renders speech itself as an anti-colonial, anti-patriarchal act in the titular story is what draws me to this story, of Anne and Sarah’s female friendship, again and again. To those with academic curiosities, it is also provocative the way Djebar subverts the famous Eugene Delacroix painting by the same name in re-rendering the women of Algiers outside the mythical logics of Oriental France.

First published in French in Femmes d’Alger dans leur Appartement, 1980. First published in translation in Women of Algiers in their Apartment, University of Virginia Press, 1999