Untranslatability of Algeria’s Civil War (1990s): Case study of Algerian women survivors/fighters

Anissa Daoudi
University of Birmingham


Systematic rape and sexual violence, kidnapping, and murder of women have been common in the two Algerian wars (War of Liberation and the Civil War) and yet are narrated and remembered differently. Nevertheless, stories we narrate “do not only mediate our access to reality, but also participate in configuring that reality” (Baker, 2006). Besides, translated stories are as important, given the fact that translation is “understood as a form of (re)narration that constructs rather than represents the event and characters it re-narrates in another language” (Baker 2006). Stories can also be remembered as solely determined in the past or constructed by political contingencies in the present (Chamberlain and Thompson, 1998; Botler, 2007). With a broad definition of translation, i.e., is not just as a way of rendering a source text to a target one, but of ideas, laws and discourses. There are cases where translation becomes difficult if not impossible. This paper builds on Emily Apter’s concept of ‘untranslatability’ to include multiple ‘untranslatabilities’ on textual as well as the non-textual levels. This paper sets out to present why Algeria is ‘untranslatable’, to borrow Apter’s terms.

The paper will present a comparative study (Memory of the Flesh ذاكرة الجسد (1993)) by Alhlem Mosteghanemi, around the Liberation War vs. (Ta’a al khajal تاء الخجل (2003)) on the Civil War’s atrocities. The final section is an analysis of Assia Djebar’s three oeuvres that were written as reactions to the ‘Black Decade’: Le blanc de l’Algérie (1995), Vaste est la Prison (1995), Oran, Langue Morte (1997). The aim of the paper is to present the multi-faceted ‘untranslatability’ of Algeria in the 1990s.