Snapshots of Death: Allegorical short fiction from Algerian writer Chawki Amari

Two men are talking in a smoke-filled room. On the carved table in the middle of the sitting room is a pile of photographs. M. takes the top one and shows it to B.

‘Lethal Parallax’, a fascinating, science fiction-tinged political short story by Algerian journalist and novelist Chawki Amari, has been translated for the latest edition of Asymptote.

Amari’s satirical newspaper comics saw him imprisoned by the state in the nineteen-nineties. Once he was released he moved overseas to continue writing and fighting for freedom of expression and robust democracy in Algeria.

‘Lethal Parallax’ comes from Amari’s short story collection De bonnes nouvelles d’Algérie, which was written and published during the Algerian Civil War (1991–2002.) Set in what could be modern day Algeria, images and the art of photography are more concretely powerful than usual. Two unscrupulous men use their camera to take photos of strangers and sell the pictures overseas for very good money. The repercussions of their snapshots are disturbing—subjects turn into victims, holes are ripped into landscapes. The police are on the trail of the supernatural photographers while juggling bomb threats and public grief with a rough hand.

The story, originally titled « Parallax Mortelle », was translated by Lauren Broom, who says in her translator’s notes:

For outsiders, this collection offers an intriguing introduction to the everyday experiences of Algerian citizens, caught between an ossified ruling party and an Islamist insurgency … irony pervades the first story in the collection, where bombs are easy to come by but photographs are contraband.

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