Amin Zaoui

Portrait Amin Zaoui
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Algerian writer Amin Zaoui was born in Bab el Assa in the Algerian province of Tlemcen. He studied comparative literature at the University of Oran. He writes and publishes novels in both French and Arabic. His works follow the Berber-Arabic tradition of storytelling but often broach sensitive topics such as sexuality or the role of women in the Arab world. Zaoui believes that the status of women »is an excellent measure of a society’s progress or decline«. He takes on violence, hypocrisy and opposition to progress in a pointed manner. He analyzes the political and societal situation in his homeland, criticizing Algerian politics and the hypocrisy that drowns out the country’s problems. His first novel in Arabic was banned in Algeria. After escaping an attack by Islamist extremists and when his books started to be burned publicly, Zaoui moved to Caen in France in 1995. He moved back to Algeria in 2000 and has been working there ever since.

His novels »Les gens du parfum« (2003; tr. The people of perfume) and »Festin de mensonges« (2007; Eng. »Banquet of Lies«, 2008), among others, were published in French. »La Chambre de la Vierge Impure« (2009; tr. The bedroom of the impure virgin) is a sensuous and poetic narrative somewhere between fiction and reality. 16 year-old Ailane leaves his house to buy a sugar loaf from the one-armed grocer in the village. This short journey turns into 13 long years when Ailane is kidnapped by radical Islamists. The novel »Le dernier juif de Tamentit« (2013; tr. The last Jew of Tamentit) is philosophical, political and erotic in equal measure. In it, Zaoui holds up a mirror to his community. Barkahoum and Abraham, a modern, Jewish-Muslim couple meet for lunch every day in a pizzeria in Algiers. They tell each other about their lives, remembering their ancestors and the centuries in which Jews and Muslims lived peacefully together. Zaoui criticizes how the human body has been banished from public view and Muslim society’s prudish nature. Even topics such as child abuse and slavery are hinted at.

Zaoui’s books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and have been nominated for the Arabic Book Prize, among others. He also works as a literary translator, having translated novels by Mohamed Dib and Yasmina Khadra from French into Arabic. He has also been a general director of the National Library of Algeria and currently teaches comparative studies at the Central Algerian University.