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Review: State of Emergency, by Soleïman Adel Guémar

Though my French is limited I felt compelled again and again to turn to it, particularly when reciting. English seems almost prosaic and unworthy to convey the depth and nuances of Guémar's feelings and ideas. However this does not, in any way, detract from the merits of the translation, which stands proudly on its own as a work of great power impacting on the sensitivities of the reader. The translators, one a linguist and the other a poet, worked closely with Guémar...

One of Guémar's great strengths is his economy with words. His poems tell of the pain and suffering of his compatriots, the political lies and complicity, the senseless cruelty, the fervent yearning and hope for a true peace in his beloved homeland. He cries out against the brutality indicting the perpetrators and those who, by their silence, are complicit in the terror.

There are three themes which I wish to explore, namely, his utter disdain for the military dictators and their lackeys, the suffering of ordinary Algerian citizens and his feelings as an exile towards Algeria. He describes the military; uniformed automatons, sinister and cold who act on command, firing indiscriminately into the demonstration. His anger and contempt for the military is very apparent. He sees them as uncouth baboons, beer swilling, lying, military tyrants... Yet with a few chosen words he swiftly, wittily and with dramatic effect, destroys their pomposity and arrogance.

The theme of suffering of ordinary citizens and of the individual, the tortured prisoner, is graphically expressed in many of the poems. He captures both the physical appearance and the mental anguish of a persecuted people... He points the accusatory finger at the monsters and hopes that the deaths will be revenged. Without explicit telling and with few words, we can see, hear and feel the despair and pain of the prisoner. Guémar encompasses the themes of torture and repression and the guilt felt at ones inability and failure to prevent such atrocities.

The thought of exile is tinged with sadness. He yearns for Algeria... The memories are bitter for a childhood which has been snatched away... the strong rhythm invokes carefree days of youth, of dancing, of forbidden love, of happiness. Gone, shattered... there is also guilt. The guilt at abandoning his country, that he is playing at forgetfulness, playing at life, but in reality his heart lies with the suffering of his fellow countrymen...