Testimonies and literature as alternative transitional justice in Algeria

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This essay emerged from a practice-led project, in which Algerian women survivors of the Civil War of the 1990s narrate their first-hand testimonies in the presence of authors who endeavoured to translate them through literature. It explores Khatibi's novel Hatab Sarajevo (Firewood of Sarajevo) (2019) which combines the unheard voices of these women survivors as well as survivors of the war in Bosnia. In it, first-hand and secondary witnesses are communicated through the medium of testimony as a genre and through language in its literal and figurative forms. The essay aims to influence the debate around transitional justice, symbolic reparation and the role of literature in the provision of remedy for historical injustice, particularly in a situation where processes of transitional justice have been absent, aborted or misused, as in the case of Algeria. This essay brings approaches from a variety of disciplines to explore the power of literature in challenging established narratives through testimony. It compares and contrasts the different forms of witnessing produced by first-hand eyewitnesses with those communicated and translated through literature, in this case Khatibi's novel Hatab Sarajevo (2018), to present a practical case of a survivor-centred approach. It will illustrate how “translated” stories go beyond the traditional way of representing the past and searching for truth, to empowering survivors. I argue this collective writing project gives agency to survivors to create a corpus of “mnemonics literature” (i.e. of mnemonic collected works). In doing so, it generates “alternative archives”, which could be either a contested or a confirmed version of history, as well as enabling the empowerment of “mnemonic communities” as a whole. I conclude that testimonies in their different forms both promote healing processes and symbolic reparations and shape sociopolitical debates surrounding collective memory.

Bibliographic note

Funding Information: This work was supported by Leverhulme Trust, Leverhulme Fellowship. Many thanks to Professor Sara Jones for her critical reading of early drafts of this essay and her useful comments. I am ever grateful to her. I also would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. Many thanks to Professor Robert Young for encouraging me to submit this paper to Interventions. Publisher Copyright: © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1045-1064
Number of pages20
JournalInterventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies
Issue number8
Early online date10 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2020


  • Algeria, Bosnia, alternative history, empowerment, injustice, literature, memory, sexual violence, survivor-centred approach, survivors, transitional justice

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