Molière to Shakespeare: Algerian readership shift

The curtain of the Shakespeare Bookstore in Amirouche, Algiers, is half down, with dozens of boxes piled up at the entrance signalling a new arrival of books.

Inside, three young women are unboxing and placing the precious merchandise on the shelves, conversing mainly in English.

This bookstore caters to all types of bookworms who read in English, offering a wide range of genres including young adult fiction, fantasy, classics, and science.

“We previously had two sections dedicated to books in Arabic and French, but we had to remove them to make space as they never attracted any customers,” Rafik Hanine, founder and owner of the bookstore, tells The New Arab.

The 25-year-old started his project with a simple Facebook page in 2015 to fill a gap in the Algerian market, where books in English were hard to find and mainly ordered online from abroad.

In September 2023, Rafik brought his project to life with the help of Techno-Sciences, a technology company that sponsored him.

“Encouraged by a pre-established audience and the growing popularity of the English language in Algeria, many authors are taking the leap”

Since its grand opening, the bookstore has sold over 10,000 copies.

“This is not a simple trend. The upcoming generations will all be English speakers. Algerians are increasingly detaching from French, which even the youth consider the coloniser’s language,” affirms Rafik.

Due to a 132-year-long colonisation, French has remained popular in Algeria, where Arabic and Tamazight are the national languages.

Nearly 62 years after independence, French is still the most widely spoken foreign language in Algeria.

According to a report published by the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) in 2022, nearly 15 million Algerians speak French. However, among the new generation, it is gradually losing ground to English.

With the rise of this new community of readers, English-speaking writers have emerged.

Encouraged by a pre-established audience and the growing popularity of the English language in Algeria, many authors are taking the leap. Seeing these writers as a lifeline for a struggling industry, publishers are eagerly welcoming them and their manuscripts.

Hamza Koudri is one of these writers. A graduate in English literature from the University of Bouzereah in Algiers and now country director of the British Council in Algeria, the 34-year-old published his historical novel Sand Roses in 2023 in both the UK and Algeria.

“I often get asked why I write in English. It’s not surprising because English is becoming much more popular in Algeria. The younger generation is more comfortable with it. You hear it a lot more often on the street. Several new bookstores specialise in English literature, and most bookstores that used to only sell French and Arabic literature are now expanding their English sections,” says the English graduate.

“I have seen quite a few writers self-publish novels and poems in English. Bookstagrammers are now also creating content in English. So, I don’t see Sand Roses as much of a disruption as it is a continuation of an already changing system,” he adds.

On a different note, Hamza considers his book “a pure Algerian production” even though many people would believe the opposite.

“People would always assume I studied or lived abroad. I have only taken classes in creative writing in the US for a year in 2016. But I was already mastering my English before that trip,” explains Hamza.

Narrating a captivating story about two Nailiya dancers who fortuitously join the resistance against the French coloniser, Sand Roses is meeting great success, even if Hamza does not admit it out of modesty.

Between signing sessions, media coverage, and cultural events, the author has no trouble attracting an audience.

Sand Roses has allowed me to reach a young generation of Algerian readers who lean towards English and were enthusiastic about a book about Algeria written in English,” he explains.

Hamza’s novel is now available in the UK, South Africa, and on Amazon. With its upcoming release in Nigeria this month, it continues to capture attention, having been shortlisted for the Island Prize and recognised on Brittle Paper’s prestigious list of 100 notable African books of 2023.

“Foreigners also appreciated the chance to discover more about Algeria through fiction, and I receive a lot of messages from readers around the world,” he says.

If Hamza’s book hit the Algerian shelves, it’s because of his editor Dalila Nadjem, who saw in him an opportunity to boost the publishing market.

Head of DALIMEN publishing house and owner of the library Point-Virgule in western Algiers, Dalila Nadjem says she started noticing a growing interest in English literature in 2015 with the boom of streaming platforms.

“Many young graduates came looking for the books that inspired their favourite adaptations, so I introduced an English book section for them,” says the editor and librarian.

This growing prominence of the English language among readers also encouraged Nadjem to publish Sand Roses.

“When Hamza came to me with his book, I said yes immediately, even before knowing what his novel was about, especially because it was already edited and published in London. We agreed on a trial with a few hundred copies that quickly sold out before we reprinted more,” she confesses.

“After learning about the story of his book, I confirmed that it was necessary to take the risk to revive this sector, which is in very bad shape due to several factors, notably the lack of bookstores, whose number does not exceed 100 across the entire country.”

Seeing the success Sand Roses brought, Dalila Nadjem decided to publish more English-speaking writers.

“The next publication is an English book intended for children,” reveals the editor.

Editors are not the only ones riding the wave of the English language’s popularity. Algeria’s government is also seizing the occasion to reform its educational system.

In 2022, English, which was only taught starting in middle school, was introduced in primary schools as a second foreign language after French.

“The demand for English is driven by many reasons. We receive [at the British Council] a lot of students who want to improve their skills for educational purposes because they want to pursue their studies abroad. Some others are motivated by touristic reasons and want to improve their English for when they travel,” says Hamza.

Tenere Majhoul is a journalist who reports on political and social issues in North Africa. Her work has been published by Le Monde and Al Jazeera English

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *