Interview with longlisted author Boumediene Belkebir
When did you begin writing The Alley of the Italians and where did the inspiration for it come from?
Actually, it was many years ago that I had the idea of writing about the city of Annaba, and in particular the old city (La Place D’Armes), but I postponed the project whilst I wrote the novel The Myth of the Strong Man, then another novel, Three Lives of One Man or Zouj Beghal.
The story of how I started writing The Alley of the Italians started in 2018, when I did a filmed interview for a website belonging to the American Al-Hurra channel about my novel Three Lives of One Man/Zouj Beghal. After the interview, I took the journalists on a tour to the old city. We had just passed through the entrance to the most ancient alleyway there, called “the alley of the fishermen”, or “Josephine Street”, or “the alley of the Italians” (it has had various names over the course of time), a populous neighbourhood in the heart of the city of Annaba, when we met an old woman sitting there. When she saw us (and the journalists carrying their equipment), she gave a broad grin and said in a friendly way: “welcome to the alley of the Italians”. At that moment, the idea flashed in my mind again, and from that day onwards I started work on the novel.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you completed it?
I worked on The Alley of the Italians for three full years and for a long time, I mixed with the people there, visiting the alleyways, districts, streets, cafés and restaurants of the old city. I live in the city of Annaba.
How have readers and critics received it?
Since the novel’s publication and launch party at the national book fair organized in Algiers at the end of last March, several book signings have been arranged, and I have noticed readers’ enthusiasm and their mostly positive impressions after reading the book. I was invited to three book signings, for example, in Annaba in a single month, not to mention other invitations.
Since the novel’s publication, I have been in touch with dozens of researchers (students and academics), answering their questions and conjectures. The Alley of the Italians was chosen in a number of universities as a project for several papers and graduation theses (BA, MA, PhD) in the 2021-2022 academic year.
As well as all that, dozens of articles have been written about the novel, and important interviews and discussions were conducted with me for well-known local, Arab and foreign newspapers (such as Al-Arab al-Londoniyya, the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper, the Al-Jazeera.net website, the Emirati Erem news agency, Al-Araby TV in Beirut, the Number One channel in Algeria, the Lina channel, the Sharjah Cultural Magazine, the Egyptian Akhbar al-Adab newspaper and others).
Only a few weeks after the novel was published, a deal was agreed to translate the novel into the Amazigh language.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
I am working on two projects: the first is a book in diary form entitled An Unseen Enemy – Diary of a Novelist in Stone. The second is a novel entitled: The Sigh of Ann Sophie Hebar.