Interview with longlisted author Amara Lakhous
When did you begin writing The Night Bird and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I began writing it in 2013, when I left Italy after a long time living there. I had eagerly imbibed Italian culture and wrote fiction in Italian in an original way. I felt that I was ready to write about Algeria in Arabic, with freshness and insight. After much thought, I became convinced that the crime novel, or noir novel, was the form most suitable for approaching the complicated and unhappy state of affairs in Algeria. Corruption and bad management have stood obstinately against all attempts to achieve change and progress. There is a general sense among Algerians that the regime in power since 1962 (the year of independence from France) is an extension of colonialism.
All my novels are answers to questions and obsessions which have preoccupied me, and The Night Bird is no different. In the book, I have tried to answer this question: why have Algerians failed to build a just country and to tread a path worthy of the great revolution of 1st November 1954, one which you would expect them to follow, given the natural and demographic wealth of the country? Although the novel doesn’t contain optimistic notes and a happy ending, yet there are strong characters who refuse to surrender, resist tyranny and stand up for human issues like freedom and justice.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
Yes, it took a lot of time and effort. The novel covers sixty years of Algerian history (1958-2018), so I had to read a lot of research and analysis of this period. Before finding a narrative form I was happy with, I experimented with different types. Avoiding chronology, I made use of the techniques of film editing, going backwards and forwards in time to increase the suspense.
Since I am firmly convinced that the place where the novel is set is more than a mere backdrop and should be a central character in the novel, I lived in Oran for over a year and got close to its people and neighbourhoods. I adored this city because it is an example of openness and the meeting of different cultures: Amazigh, Arab, Spanish, Turkish and French.
I well remember the day I finished the novel: I was in Oran and it was the end of September 2019. I had agreed with my friend, the publisher Khaled Al-Nassiry, to wake up at 4am to review the final draft before sending it off to the printers.
How have readers and critics received it?
Reactions of readers and critics have been very encouraging. I was delighted by comments referring to how I have been influenced by Italian literature, especially Sicilian literature, represented by the great writer Leonardo Sciascia (1923-1989). How similar Sicily and the Arab world are, in both positive and negative aspects! My ambition was, and still is, to make the best possible use of my creative experience in Italian, in order to inject new life into Arabic literature.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
I usually work on several projects at once, some in Arabic and others in Italian. The most important one I am working on right now is making colonel Karim Sultani, the hero of The Night Bird, into a character appearing in a series of books. I have reached the finale of a new story in which our hero manages to solve the mystery of the assassination of his friend and colleague twenty years before, during the years of terrorism in the 1990s.