Translated by Betsy Wing
Winner of the 2000 Independent Publisher Book Award for Multicultural Fiction
“For a long time I believed that writing meant dying . . .” begins this extraordinary book, the double-threaded story of one woman’s existence set against the unforgiving history of her country.
So Vast the Prison is the most ambitious work to date by the woman many consider to have been North Africa’s most important literary voice. The tragedies of Algerian history are its subject—particularly the condition of women in Islam. Djebar’s fiction, like that of Nadine Gordimer and Edna O’Brien, wrestles with issues of oppression and the subtle ways that language and history enforce it.
It is the story of a modern, educated Algerian woman, raised during the years of Colonial oppression and the Algerian War, whose older brother was imprisoned in France. She watches her marriage disintegrate in a society intolerant of women, even as she marvels at the closeness of women among themselves at the ritual baths and in other gatherings. Woven into the woman’s personal life story is the ancient history of her land, including the loss of its early languages, the massive destruction suffered in wars of conquest, and the quirks of chance which enabled traces to remain.
Here is a radically singular voice; a private tale embedded in a vast tapestry.