The House of the Devils
A journalist’s brilliant account of live in Algeria after the victorious struggle for independence
‘This isn’t a political book, let alone a political analysis. It’s a book about normal, everyday Algerians and how they think about themselves and their country.’ This is the way Harm Botje starts his book of impressions and stories from Algeria. In the words of one his characters, Algeria is ‘the most beautiful country in the world’, but it’s in danger of becoming a hell: when Botje embarks on his journey through Algeria the authorities have just obstructed the Islamic Salvation Front’s election victory, the result is rioting and terrorist attacks. The discrepancies are large and young people have little hope.
Botje gets to the bottom of things by coincidental meetings and by slowly nurturing relationships of trust. As a result Het duivelshuis gives a subtle, multifaceted picture of a country that could have been a paradise, if only so much things had not gone wrong along the way. This failure has made Algerians fatalistic: in general they are apathetic concerning the fight to the death between the authorities and the fundamentalists. In fact their lives are still determined by the consequences of the bloody war of independence against the French, who considered them sales indigènes, dirty natives. ‘That is the tragedy of Algeria, monsieur. That’s why we laugh so seldom,’ says an old Algerian.
In the vast hinterland, particularly in Kabylia where the book starts and where the last Berber tribes maintain their traditions in the face of oppression, the people struggle for their rights. The book’s title is derived from a mythical site in Kabylia to which the local population attaches particular significance: Botje’s friend and travelling companion Mohand shows him a house that is possessed by the devil - no amount of Western logic can convince him otherwise. Het duivelshuis is an understated but convincing case for a country that must not be left to its own fate.