Over at Asymptote Journal, a selection of Algerian writer Mohamed Kacimi’s essays have been translated from French into English by Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg.
‘Thos Zimigrins from Bakinthir’ comes from Les Algériens au café (2003), a collection concerned with the immigration experiences of Algerians of different backgrounds. In the 1970s (the slice of time the essay describes) there were Algerians, Tunisian immigrants and the ‘pied-noirs’—Algerian-born French, paradoxically both insiders and outsiders, neither French enough as they were born in Africa, nor Algerian enough because of their skin colour and privilege in society. To this already bubbling melting pot, each year saw the influx of the flashy summer émigrés.
Kacimi provides insight into the café life of Bou Saada and describes with some hilarity the wacky hippies, the pompousness of ‘thos zimigrins’ (read: those immigrants) and their humblebragging homesickness. The translator Nuernberg excellently renders the accented French and thick local pronunciations that flavour the original with its distinctive sense of place and time:
That’s the strange language of dominoes spoken summer and winter in the cafés of Bou Saada, a city on the High Plateau. Colonial mystique endowed it with the most affectionate of names: Bou Saada, the City of Happiness, the famous Herrero Mill, the palm groves, and the Transatlantic Hotel lost in the sand and adorned with an immense cypress tree that they’d drape with garlands at Christmastime while the department stores at the Rose Blanche lined their window displays with a multitude of little cotton balls in hopes of convincing us that it was snowing on December 24, 1969, even though it’s ninety degrees in the shade.
- Efemia Chela is Francophone & Contributing Editor