“Nedjma” by Yacine Kateb

This article is also available in: Italiano

Yacine Kateb’s book tells about Algeria in the role of Nedjma, a mysterious femme fatale, desired by 4 friends. Mysteries and discoveries, however, will envelop the birth of the woman, a story to which multiple destinies are linked. Kateb’s masterpiece, the novel is still considered one of the greatest books of Algerian literature.


Four friends, Rachid, Lakhdar, Murad and Mustafà are obsessed with the love of a woman, Nedjma, Kamel’s wife. A mystery surrounds the birth of her: entrusted as a child to an adoptive mother, she is the daughter of a French woman later kidnapped by four lovers, including Rachid’s father and a prestigious seducer, Si Mokhtar. Nedjma is conceived during a fateful night in which these last two characters had led the Frenchwoman into a cave where, the following morning, the body of Rachid’s father will be found. Rachid will then follow Si Mokhtar and spare her father’s alleged murderer, as he is obsessed with the desire to know the truth about Nedjma, perhaps his sister or daughter of Si Mokhtar. The seducer, then, is also Kamel’s father: he could not prevent him from marrying the girl, under pain of revealing the drama and mystery of his birth.

The author Yacine Kateb

After a pilgrimage to Mecca, Rachid and Si Mokhtar decide to kidnap Nedjma from her incestuous spouse and lead her to the inaccessible mountain where the last survivors of their tribe live. Thus Nedjma fulfills its destiny. After several injuries the two friends find themselves working on a construction site. Here Lakhadar has a brutal confrontation with the foreman, is arrested and manages to escape. Shortly thereafter Murad is also arrested for killing the sordid old businessman, whose young wife, Suzy, was impressed. Later, Rachid, a deserter, will find Murad in prison. Everyone will be obsessed by the continually evoked presence of Nedjma: in the nights and days of Murad’s imprisonment, in Mustafà’s diary, in Rachid’s conversations with a stranger.

Algerie femme fatale

Algeria is the true protagonist of the whole novel, embodied in Nedjma, femme fatale destined to reunite the four relatives as her mother had done in the past. In Kateb’s novel the destiny of the country is re-proposed as a sort of tide: cyclical. The 4 protagonists will find themselves, in fact, entangled in the same fate as their predecessors, without being able in any way to escape the passion that binds them to this mysterious woman.

Laetitia Eido as Lalla Fatma n’Soumer

Another very interesting detail is the symbolism behind the birth of the woman who, in a certain sense, re-proposes the fate of Algeria. Nedjma’s mother was French and chased by 4 different Algerian men, a metaphor for how the transalpine occupation took place and how the 4 major cities (Oran, Blida, Algiers and Constantina) were fascinated by the invaders.

A reflection on colonialism

Yacine Kateb’s novel is therefore not a simple story of love, but rather as a real attempt to push one’s people to reflect on past and present. In Nedjma, in fact, the author also makes precise and strong references to the occupation of Algeria, also drawing on distant but perfectly fitting examples, dating back to the Roman Empire. The vision that emerges is in fact of how history, even after millennia, repeats itself, placing the French as a sort of neo-Romans, determined to colonize the Algerians as they did with the Numidians.


The comparison will then prove to be spot on in the facts, placing the protagonists over and over again to reflect at the turn of two times, almost crushed by a future that seems inevitable. The date of publication of the novel, 1956, and its language, French, are also very interesting. A real cultural affront to the occupiers, at a time when the outbreak of revolt was being created in the country.

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