Sirocco: Life in the Twilight of French Algeria: Danielle A. Dahl
The voice of a ten-year-old child is heard as she takes us into her world and enlightens us with what many suffered during her young life. Within the nation of Algeria many died, some at the hands of the terrorists who decided to wipe out entire families at will. Arab rebels took out their vengeance on innocent people as our narrator, Nanna tells the story from start to finish. Living in fear and always looking over their shoulders, careful not to find themselves the object of these attacks on route to visit a family member or friend, Nanna and her family deal with learning to live in a world in the 1950’s that most would never imagine existed. Going to market, taking a bus ride and trying to buy needed goods could result in death. Baskets filled with good often contained bombs as we meet this family up close and personal and get to know not only Nanna as she tells her story but her siblings and parents too. Living in fear most of her life not only of the terrorists but of her father and not inciting his wrath, this young child sees more than she should, understands more than most children her age and graphically tells and relates incidents read in the newspaper hoping to understand a world filled with hate.
The story describes her life, going to school, playing simple games and yet reminds readers that although it is the 20th century these people living in French Algiers do not have the modern conveniences we do practically living within the 19th century as you learn more about how they live, how they wash clothes and prepare food. Their diet is quite different than ours and children are subjected to the foods their parents can afford, want them to eat and often wait until late into the night for their father to return from work or going out with his friends before being allowed to eat dinner. Children doing chores that most adults would normally do. Children being subjected to abuse that we would never have to deal with and hopefully learning that life is not going to be so hard all the time but Nanna learns much more before all is said and done.
A mother who is caring and two sisters that are quite different and a grandfather whom she adores this family seems just like ours but they are really not. Nanna adores her Papa who hopes and tries to protect them when bombs go off, explosions come out of nowhere and family and friends are killed. But, all too often we hear her cries, feel her tears falling down her face as she tries to live up to the standards her father has set for her and often fails. Living through so much and losing many that she cared for we hear her voice loud and clear as she spends time with her aunts and uncles, her grandfather and just wants to enjoy being a child.
“The Fellagha: The Fellagha, an Arabic word literally meaning “bandit”, but also comes from “fellah” or farmer, and “fallaq” or blow up, refers to groups of armed militants affiliated with anti-colonial movements in French North Africa. It most often is used to refer to armed Algerian nationalists who adopted violent means in order to push the French out of Algeria as well as those same fighters in Tunisia or those who did the same. They were particularly important during the Algerian War (1954–1962) led by the National Liberation Front.” They provide the fear within the hearts of those living in Constantine as the author, takes us through Nanna, her own recollections of what happens when they take lives, kill and destroy the homes and hopes of so many that they love. How do you watch your family, your country and the world you live in get destroyed? How do you live knowing that your family could be next? Why did the fellagha target the Arabs, kill them? Murdering them because they are pro-French. This young child watches as the French generals wind up laying down their arms or weapons for a French Algeria after realizing that the generals in the army were betrayed by De Gaulle.
Although Nanna adores and worships her father she also realizes that his views about her are prejudiced as she is a girl. All too often he puts her down as she seeks his approval for her actions and hopes to be included in what needs to be done to keep the family safe. His values are often stilted and as she meets two young men, Angelo and Alfred her father’s take on her relationship with both boys is clouded by what he thinks might have happened and yet did not. Nanna is often headstrong and defiant and both father and daughter often come to blows in many ways. But, when danger is there the family needs to rally together.
Sharing her childhood memories, the fun she and her siblings had her relationship with her parents author Danielle A. Dahl takes readers back in time to experience the curfews, the violence the deceptions and the deceit felt by so many Pieds Noir when the radio broadcasted anti-De Gaulle demonstrations in Constantine, Algiers, Oran and many other small towns. Martial law, curfews and the hope that someday they would have the same freedoms that others had kept her spirit up but for how long? But, as De Gaulle was called La Grande Zohra did not share her expectations for the country and the future as the radio and television commentators told of how De Gaulle called on French Military and civilians to go against the putsch and declared a state of emergency. Taking readers through the violence, the protests and the turbulence in her country you can hear the pride within her voice as she relates her own feelings, goes up against her father’s words at times and tries to become her own person. Strong minded and determined Nanna and her family would never give up and a decision had to be made whether to remain or leave.
From 1830-1962 this country had many different governmental systems. But, French North Africa was never thought or considered to be part of France. History relates that Algeria became the destination for many thousands of European immigrants called colons and later known as pieds-noirs. These Muslims remained a majority population and this population having no political or economic status created the fueled calls for greater political autonomy and eventually independence, from France. Violence broke out as the author shares the many raids on different homes, bombs going off in the middle of the night and the fear instilled in the population as the events would be known as the Algerian War ending in 1962 when the country finally gets her independence. The self-determination referendum and Evian agreements were signed in July of that year. The FLN tried to organize Algerians in France and it was Algerians in France who were supposed to finance the war. The author takes us deep inside this war, as we understand what the FLN did to these people, the taxes they imposed on workers, students and shopkeepers and the treatment inflicted on the population.
When the situation heats up and Nanna is now 18 the family faces a crisis and a decision has to be made. A father whose temperament was at times unstable, hard to deal with and often crass in the way he spoke to his children as Nanna tried to meet his expectations yet sometimes felt as she often does not belong. Families in need of shelter her parents with their cemetery business and her father as a police man hoping to protect his family yet having to decide where his loyalties lie when offered a position for more money.
Meet Danielle, Zizou, Mireille, Riri and Yves and take the journey along with their parents back in time to where it all began and find out what happens when De Gaulle was in power, the father explains his politics as we learn more about the struggle and understand it as he relates it to his children on pages 186-188 and find out how the FLN received the unconditional support of the French and International Communist Party and how one family lived through it all, lost so many, struggled with just living life and withstood the “Searing Sirocco wind that in season, blew howling sand from the Sahara desert.” Where will the wind finally blow and where will Sirocco take this family? Find out when you read this memorable and heartfelt memoir and then learn more when the author finishes and pens the next chapters in her life: Mistral.
A story that makes her proud as you can hear her voice loud and clear the love she had for her country, her convictions strong and the pride she felt each time she fought for what she believed, meet Nanna and hear her special composition that set her apart from all of her classmates and know as Madam Denis stated about her story that this memoir: THIS IS HOW A STORY SHOULD BE WRITTEN!
Fran Lewis: reviewer