The best books about the Algerian War 1954-62 from an Algerian perspective

Who am I?

I've been fascinated by Algeria ever since I first visited the country in the summer of 1982, visiting cities in the north, Algiers and Oran, and then crossing over the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert. This encounter never left me, so it was quite natural that when I started a PhD I was drawn to Algerian history. My books seek to both put Algerians centre-stage through their creativity expressed in music, food, poetry, writings and humour and to connect them to wider global histories. I'm co-curating a Cultures of Resistance Festival in Dublin which will bring together Algerian and Irish creatives to reflect upon their common resistance cultures.

I wrote...

Algeria: France's Undeclared War

By Martin Evans,

Book cover of Algeria: France's Undeclared War

What is my book about?

Invaded in 1830, populated by one million settlers who co-existed uneasily with nine million Arabs and Berbers, Algeria was different from other French colonies because it was administered as an integral part of France, in theory no different from Normandy or Brittany. The depth and scale of the colonisation process explains why the Algerian War of 1954 to 1962 was one of the longest and most violent of the decolonisation struggles.

I argue that the Socialist-led Republican Front, in power from January 1956 until May 1957, is the defining moment in the war because it was predicated upon the belief in the universal civilising mission of the Fourth Republic, coupled with the conviction that Algerian nationalism was feudal and religiously fanatical in character.

The books I picked & why

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Journal, 1955-1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War

By Mouloud Feraoun, James D. Le Sueur, Mary Ellen Wolf (translator), Claude Fouillade (translator)

Book cover of Journal, 1955-1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War

Why this book?

This intensely personal diary conveys the savage day-to-day reality of this colonial conflict like no other and is a must-read for anyone interested in Algerian perspectives. By November 1954, the moment when the National Liberation Front (FLN) launches the armed national liberation struggle that will achieve independence eight years later, Mouloud Feraoun is already a very well-established novelist, writing while simultaneously working in the French education administration in French Algeria. Through his journal entries, therefore, he tries to make sense of the cycles of violence and counter-violence as they unfold around him which means that the diary is not a dry, detached account.

It is written in the very eye of the storm and brilliantly conveys how ordinary Algerians sought to navigate one of the most brutal episodes of the whole decolonsation process. Assassinated by a right-wing terrorist group, the Secret Army Organisation (OAS), just days before the official cease-fire ended the conflict on 18 March 1962, Feraoun’s journal was published shortly after in French. The single most important account of the everyday impact of the Algerian War.   

A Dying Colonialism

By Frantz Fanon, Haakon Chevalier (translator),

Book cover of A Dying Colonialism

Why this book?

Psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, Frantz Fanon is born in Martinique in 1925 and comes to work in French Algeria in 1953 as a doctor in a hospital in Blida, just south of Algiers. Angry at the way in which treatment of Algerian patients is shot through with institutionalised racism, Fanon resigns his post in 1956 and joins the FLN in Tunisia. Working as a journalist, his writings are a piercing attack on French colonialism which feed directly into A Dying Colonialism. Published in 1959, the fifth year of the Algerian Revolution, each chapter analyses how the liberation struggle is transforming Algerian society at every level, from attitudes to technology and medicine through to the role of women—perspectives that decisively frame Gillo Pontecorvo’s depiction of the Algerian War in his 1966 cinematic masterpiece Battle of Algiers

Fanon dies of cancer two years later, shortly before independence, but this book, translated into English in 1965, is hugely influential on anti-colonial movements throughout the world. Indeed, I would argue that it is one of the key ways in which the Algerian struggle is understood, in particular in the Anglophone world, during the 1960s and 1970s.

Inside the Battle of Algiers: Memoir of a Woman Freedom Fighter

By Zohra Drif, Andrew G. Farrand (translator),

Book cover of Inside the Battle of Algiers: Memoir of a Woman Freedom Fighter

Why this book?

This is an astonishing memoir, told by one of the women bombers, Zohra Drif, so memorably portrayed in Gillo Pontecorvo’s film Battle of Algiers. A retrospective account, first published in French in 2013 to great acclaim and great controversy, Drif explains her motivations in clear and direct prose. She traces why and how she becomes a member of the National Liberation Front, willing to go to the most extreme lengths to liberate her country from colonial oppression. As such this memoir is full of telling historical details, not least in terms of the daily drip-drip violence of settler colonialism and the huge mirror violence this engendered. More specifically, this memoir provides us with a remarkable insight into the thoughts and emotions of the Battle of Algiers in 1956 and 1957, when small tightly organised groups of FLN fighters confronted the French paratroopers in the Casbah of Algiers: a key moment in the whole conflict.  

Women of Algiers in Their Apartment

By Assia Djebar, Marjolijn de Jager (translator),

Book cover of Women of Algiers in Their Apartment

Why this book?

This is not only a beautifully written book, it is an important one. Why? Because it poses challenging questions about the promise of post-independence freedom for Algerian women through a collection of short stories written between 1959 and 1978. First published in French in 1980, the writing style is at once innovative, lyrical, and unsettling as Assia Djebar explores the condition of Algerian women across the pre-colonial, colonial and immediate post-colonial periods. The inspiration for the book is Eugène Delacroix’s 1834 painting of women in an Algerian harem because, as Djebar explains in the post-face, this picture leads her straight to the conundrum of 1970s Algeria: “What would Delacroix see if he entered into contemporary Algerian apartments?” And for her the depressing conclusion is that he would still find women locked up and shut away just as in the 1830s. One of the most significant voices to emerge from Algeria, Assia Djebar died in 2015, leaving behind an impressive legacy of novels, essays, and documentaries, all of which focus on the lives of Algerian women. 

I Was a French Muslim: Memories of an Algerian Freedom Fighter

By Mokhtar Mokhtefi, Elaine Mokhtefi (translator),

Book cover of I Was a French Muslim: Memories of an Algerian Freedom Fighter

Why this book?

This is a powerful memoir. First published in French in 2016, one year after Mokhtar Mokhtefi’s death, it is an eyewitness account of twentieth-century Algeria, tracing his political journey from a poor village south of Algiers, through to the French secondary education, one of the few Muslims to do so, and his eventual engagement in the FLN in 1957. Graphically portraying the anger and disaffection that drives Algerians to rebel against French rule, the book is equally unsparing about the divisions and authoritarianism which riddle the National Liberation Front and shape post-independence Algeria. Beautifully translated by his widow, the writer and anti-imperialist activist Elaine Mokhtefi. 

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