L’Expression: You have just published a new book offered to bandits d’honneur, can you tell us about it briefly?
Youcef Dris: The choice of the subject is not fortuitous, and evokes “The bandit of honor” in colonial Algeria, it is to evoke a reality that colonial injustice towards the natives created. The legends built around the honor bandits spread everywhere in Algeria, especially in Kabylia and in the Aurès, particularly through a mostly oral literature, and their “exploits” are legion, especially since most of them did not attack each other. only to those who were unpopular because of their ill-gotten wealth (owners exploiting their sharecroppers, loan sharks…) or because they represent authority (amines, rural or forest wardens, gendarmes…). Many of them have created an aura for themselves by some daring act against those who are struck by colonial authority and the “hogra”! And these are the reasons that prompted me to deal with this subject, particularly when these “bandits” would later join the ranks of the Revolution on November 1, 1954.
How does your book differ from those written on the same subject by other authors?
My essay speaks above all of the real historical value and the symbolic value of “the honor bandit” in Algeria. For example, in the game of hide and seek with the gendarme, Algerian opinion is on the bandit’s side, but it would be very superficial to retain only this aspect. Admittedly, he outwits, he taunts the forces attached to his loss and the oral narrative amplifies his exploits, but above all the majority of the population identifies with his cause, makes him the champion of resistance to external and foreign authority and is emboldened by his example. All of this is well known from the contemporary development of guerrilla warfare and “subversive warfare” which in many ways are extensions of honor “banditry”, which naturally brings us to “the national cause”.
How did you choose this subject to write this book?
Sixty years after our independence, evoking the subject of “honor bandits” in colonial Algeria also means talking about the memoirs, the subject of which is still present among our elders. For many Algerians, the famous bandits, still present in people’s minds, were above all resistance fighters to French domination, primitive, fragmented forms of Algerian nationalism. Both Bouzian El Kalaï of Béni Chougran, who died in 1876, and Messaoud Ben Zelmad in the Aurès, who died in 1921, passing of course through the brothers Abdoun and Arezki El Bachir and Ahmed Oumeri. For contemporaries, they above all represented a resistance to French laws and authorities that should not be overlooked. It is an important chapter in our history. Prosecuted most often for having complied with a customary code of honor, they are therefore the first and the champions of this custom which the French sought to reduce, to suppress and in which the Algerians rightly saw a fundamental element of their particularity.
You are the author of novels, essays, collections of poetry, legal chronicles, why this diversity in the genres of writing asks you to indulge?
First of all, I will answer you that nothing predestined me to write, neither my results in French in high school which were average, nor my career in the administration during which, apart from memos and directives, I never had no opportunity to write anything else chose. Previously, and while I was in high school, I started by writing texts, poems, sketches that we performed with my scout leaders in Tizi Ouzou, that amused me a lot. My father encouraged me and was the first to read what I wrote. I then took a liking to writing, and we debated him and me on my attempts at writing and especially on the reading to which he devoted all his free time. But I prematurely lost my father allah Yerrahmou. He will no longer read my writings, and will no longer share his remarks. So I was trying to fill the void that his absence had created in me. I was trying to give myself back the voice that his death deprived me of and it was only natural that I turned to the press, which was going to offer me the opportunity to free my imagination. I wrote every day and on all the subjects that interested me in my daily life. It was then abundance and which were to characterize my various writings.
And how did the birth of your first novel come about?
For a long time, it gave me the heart to write a novel. It took me several years of trial and error before I decided to write a simplified novel. While I have been looking for inspiration for weeks, even months, I finally had an epiphany! On my hospital bed in Paris, and as the days seemed long to me, I thought of my family, of Tizi Oouzou, of Algiers, and I came up with the brilliant idea that would serve as the basis for writing my first roman. I then took the plunge by writing my first novel “Les Amants” by Padovani, thinking of these lovers in the hospital and of my family in Algeria. After the publication of my first work, I did not stop and the passion for letters caught me in its nets and never let me go. First, I published about twenty books; I changed publishers, and I became a jack-of-all-trades author: songs, theatre, documentaries, and even film scripts. Then I started writing stories. A privileged complicit moment with my childhood when the bedtime story had become an essential family ritual. My tales are filled with colorful characters and fantastic universes. I wanted to enrich the dreams of my little readers, hence the many tales I have published.
Your novel “Les amants de Padovani” was brought to the screen, can you tell us more about it?
When I wrote “Les amants de Padovani”, most of those who read it said the same thing to me: “It would be nice if this story were brought to the screen”. So I wrote a screenplay, offered it to a director who contacted a producer. The file was presented to a ministerial commission in charge of cinema, and the project was accepted. The budget allocated to this film was derisory (just enough to make a commercial), and the producer had all the trouble in the world to take up the challenge for a film whose story takes place in the 1940s with the costumes, the sets , period accessories. All requests to extend the grant went unheeded and the film dragged on. A project which was to be carried out in 6 months, a duration of 11 years, and no less than five Ministers of Culture worked on this file without result for the film. Why ? Mystery ! Today, the project is finished and it only needs a few retouches (post synchronization) so that it can finally be brought to the screen, but it still gets stuck.
You offered a book to the giant of Chaâbie song, who is none other than your maternal uncle, El Hachemi Guerouabi. What exactly is this book about and did the fact that you are related to him greatly help you to write this book and facilitate your mission?
Any writer would dream of writing a biography of a “monster” of Algerian song of the caliber of the late El Hadj Guerrouabi. My family ties and our affinities were a sacred opportunity for me who dreamed of paying homage to the world star of châabi and to the affectionate uncle who was always available for his family. And when I made him part of my project, and having already read my novels and my other writings, he allows me to do it. A few days before his death, I had submitted a first draft to him for his opinion. He corrected a few assertions with his own hand (I still carefully keep this manuscript and his handwriting in the margin), and gave me his agreement. I made him the oath to retrocede all the rights that would bring the sale of this work to a charitable association, which was done. My only regret is that he left before the book came out.
Originally from Tizi Ouzou, you have lived for decades in the city of Oran, what do these two cities represent for you and do we find them in your books?
To these two cities, we must add Algiers, which saw me grow up, and where I began to take my first steps in writing. First Tizi Ouzou is the city of my ancestors. I was born there and experienced the best moments of my childhood and my first steps in life. I still have relatives, friends and fond memories there. I have always made a nod to this city in my writings. My father was a notable in this city blessed by the gods, my scout friends and JSK players still persist there; for most of them, for those who are still of this world. It’s the city that I keep in my heart until the big departure. Oran, where I took refuge during the dark decade, was for me a real haven of peace. The people there are welcoming and very friendly, the proof, I still live within its walls to this day and do not intend to leave Ouahran el Bahia anytime soon. I always praise it on my pages and social networks, and all I can say about this magnificent city will not be enough to restore its charm. I wrote a book about this city, and I haven’t had the chance to publish it yet, but I don’t despair of doing it soon, if I find a publisher of course.
EN majority are the writers who dedicate at least one book to tell their own life, their childhood or their course, what about you?
In each of my books, and particularly in my novels, I wink at places that are familiar to me, at people around me and at memories that have marked me. No need to talk about me, because there is nothing in particular to say. Perhaps other authors will talk about my literary career, but only in the context of studies in literature or statistics, because there is nothing in particular to say about me.
Do you write first and foremost for yourself or for your potential readers?
The answer to this question is very simple because life is a great source of inspiration, we write according to our inspiration of the moment. Life teaches us so many things that we wouldn’t want to keep to ourselves. And to write is to share them with others, hence the writing. So yes, we write for ourselves while thinking of sharing with others. For my part, I just like to tell stories, and that the words inside were a weight. Some complain that the authors know how to stop inventing stories and are content to take up true stories, their own (autofiction) or that of someone else (exofiction), while at the same time booksellers lament that people no longer want fiction and demand testimonials, biographies and other “true” stories. And when they meet an author, people inevitably ask him “but is it true, what are you saying? “. So should you write for yourself or share with the reader? The question remains!
When you write a book, are all the truths good to say or should you take the precaution of refraining from writing things that can upset the reader?
Contrary to the journalist whose work consists in demonstrating the truth, and that everything rejects this one calls his job into question, the writer writes to allow his reader to escape in fictitious stories or to discover cultures, hitherto unknown, beyond the paper. When writing fiction, it’s the imagination that decides, and then we can say everything. But when it comes to reporting real facts, it would be better to speak in the conditional and to use “filters”. There are limitations to what an author or journalist can write: defamation, incitement to hatred, violence or crimes are punished, as well as insults although cases are rare. Anyway, inconvenient truths are armed with censorship as protection and safeguard.