Algerian Author Mohammed Dib

Born in the western Algerian town of Tlemcen in 1920, Mohammed Dib discovered his talent for expressing himself through the written word at a young age and went on to contribute significantly to the literary heritage of his home country. While being proficient in various styles of writing, Mohammed Dib favored poetry, a genre he had embraced since he was 15 years old.

His semi-autobiographical trilogy centering on the lives of a large Algeria family did much to introduce the Algerian way of life to a wider audience, particularly French-speaking society, the language in which the books were written. Published in 1952, La grande maison was both Dib’s debut novel, and the first book in the trilogy. The book tells the story of a young boy named Omar, who experienced extreme poverty when growing up in the years prior to World War II. The second book in the Algerian trilogy was published in 1954, the same year that the Algerian revolution broke out. Named L’Incendie, the book details Omar’s life during World War II, with the final book, Le Métier à tisser focusing on Omar’s adult life in Algeria. The trilogy is written in the naturalistic style associated with French writer Emile Zola, while Dib’s later works featured surrealistic elements such as science fiction in his 1962 novel Qui se souvient de la mer.

Having started his working career as a teacher in the Moroccan town of Oujda at the age of 18, Dib worked at a variety of jobs including that of an interpreter and journalist. He also attended the University of Algiers during this time, where he studied literature. He married a French woman in 1952, and that same year joined the Algerian Communist Party and visited France. When he was expelled from Algeria by the French authorities in 1959 for his role in supporting Algerian independence, with the help of fellow writers he obtained permission to stay in France. In the following years he taught at the University of California at Los Angeles and served as a professor at the famed Sorbonne in Paris. He also traveled to and from Finland a number of times, and that country became the setting for a few of his later novels, some of which are also said to be semi-autobiographical.

When Mohammed Dib died at La Celle-Saint-Cloud near Paris on May 2, 2003 the French Culture Minister at the time, Jean-Jacques Aillagon paid tribute to the talented novelist and poet, noting that he had been a “spiritual bridge between Algeria and France”. Certainly his writings are recognized as having great literary value in Algeria and beyond its borders.