All posts by Wonnie Song

More on Algeria


Book Cover

Written in 2008 by journalist and historian Martin Walker, this novel is a murder mystery set in provincial France. The victim is an elderly North African, who not only fought in the French army, but won the Croix de Guerre for his efforts. The investigation “opens wounds from the dark years of Nazi occupation” and even this “seemingly perfect corner of la belle France is not exempt from [its] past”. Throughout the novel, there is much discussion of the topics we studied in class last semester. There is mention of the banlieues violence, racism, religious conflict in a society that prides itself on its laïcité and so on. The solution of the murder, however, reveals an entirely new twist in the history we studied. I don’t know how to hint at it without ruining the novel but it totally blew my mind. And the way that Bruno, the local chief of police deals with the shocking denouement is also excellent food for thought.

Has anybody read it?? And if anybody is looking for a light read this summer, please please please pick this up so I can hear your thoughts about it! It’s not particularly satisfying on a literary level, but it brings to light a new, staggering dimension in Franco-Algerian relations.

Hors la Loi by Rachid Bouchareb


Back in March, I posted about the film Indigènes. Bouchareb’s new film Hors la Loi was shown at Cannes this year and met with great controversy. French war veterans, pieds noirs and right-wing politicians protested its screening, accusing the movie of being biased against France (its portrayal of the 1945 Sétif massacre seems to have been particularly offensive). Audiences were frisked going into the theatres etc. I’m dying to see it but haven’t heard anything about mainstream distribution…has anybody seen it or read anything about it? I hear firsthand that it is just as beautifully shot as Indigènes but a review in The Telegraph says that “depth and complexity are being flattened in the pursuit of accessibility”.

Senegal in the News

Just as we started reading God’s Bits of Wood, Senegal inaugurated a $27m monument called “The Monument of African Renaissance. On Saturday, a 160 ft statue was unveiled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Senegal’s independence. The BBC article I read about it raises a few points for discussion.

  • The “soviet-style” statue, created in North Korea has received criticism for several reasons. Cost aside, some claim the statue is sexist and idolatrous. Further, many believe that the statue disrespects Muslim beliefs as the female figure is scantily clad. This “African Renaissance” statue appears to be a mosaic of foreign influence. It seems nobody is quite sure what ties the statue to Africa at all. This article, published a few months ago by the BBC, articulates this confusion quite succinctly.
  • The author reports, “Supporters say it represents Africa’s rise from ‘intolerance and racism'”. What an interesting way to phrase this statement. The agents of intolerance and racism seem rather vague here…
  • I checked the NY Times to see what sort of coverage they had of this controversy but it turns out that there is none. The BBC has published several articles regarding the statue, starting on 11 Dec 2009. I wonder why these editorial decisions were made. Poke around the articles if you get a chance (they’re all linked to each other in the “See Also” column on the right-hand side of the page).

And finally, yesterday, President Wade of Senegal announced that Senegal will be taking back control of all military bases held by France. Click here to read more. I didn’t find any mention of this in the NYTimes either. I haven’t had a chance to check out any French newspapers yet. Has anybody noticed anything?


The article in Annie’s post mentioned the 2006 film Indigènes (English title: Days of Glory) and I just wanted to post a little something about it because it is one of my favourite films and the main reason I enrolled in this class!

The film is listed as a French production but was a collaboration between France, Morocco, Belgium and Algeria. The director, Rachid Bouchareb is French-Algerian.

With rare eloquence, the film tells the story of four North African soldiers and their heroic fight against Germany’s fascism and France’s discrimination at the close of World War II. Recruited by France’s desperate military in 1943, the soldiers risk their lives for a motherland they have never seen. They are torn between their anger at the injustice they face from their own side and their loyalty to their comrades, as they push forwards in search of love, wealth and social justice.

One moment that really struck in my mind is right at the beginning of the film. The indigènes shout, “Long live France!” in Arabic. The irony can hardly escape the audience when the scene fades into an image of the Tricolour blowing over North African desert plains.

I think the DVD is available in Lilly–you should watch it if you haven’t seen it yet! It really isn’t your typical war film. Indigènes doesn’t depend on the usual formula of adrenaline-filled action scenes, heroism and romance; war is simply the backdrop to its bittersweet story. With understated elegance, Bouchareb sheds light on the often forgotten ironies of colonial France. Breathtaking cinematography and a sharp script makes Indigènes a must-see.

French Rap Continued

Face a la Mer

I really enjoyed Veronica’s post about French rap and it reminded me of a song I heard when discussing the banlieues problem in another class I took. Though it doesn’t address colonialism explicitly, I think the song is pertinent to our discussion. Further, in the English section last week, we talked about how race is never openly discussed in the French political arena and politicians prefer to discuss the immigration problem and vaguely refer to particular neighborhoods instead. Interestingly enough, this song also avoids any obvious references to race beyond of the first line.

Les Grandes Odalisques of the 20th century

I found this 2006 remake of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ painting La Grande Odalisque in the textbook for my Cultural Anthropology class, Advertising & Society.

Keri Lotion Ad
from the Boston Globe

The authors of Practices of Looking not only discuss the colonialist gaze of orientalism in Ingres’ original work but also draw attention to the fact that the lotion ad appeared “during the American and British ‘war on terror,’ in which Islamic peoples and cultures have been invoked as the source of a political threat to the West” (Sturken and Cartwright 118). They argue that “the gaze on the exoticized female figure is thus also invoked as a gaze on the other as a means of negating its threat” (118). Further, they note with great interest that this exoticized, nude female figure is presented as “a generic and seemingly timeless signifier of classical female beauty” at a time when in France, England and the US, “Islamic conventions of femininity, such as veiling and covering of the body, have been a subject of intense public political debate, fascination, misunderstanding, political harrassment, and even derision” (118).

The book also includes a 2004 billboard produced by the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist activist art group that utilizes contemporary perceptions of Ingres’ orientalism to comment on gaze and spectatorship in art.


Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of Looking. New York: OUP, 2009.