The end of an era
Hédi Kaddour could have been a reporter or a painter. By becoming a writer, he is both at once. His latest book, “Les Prépondérants”, is up for this year’s Goncourt Prize. While doing some research, the literature professor found out that in the 1920s Hollywood film crews shot orientalising movies in North Africa. This novel is set in Nahbes, an imaginary small town in North Africa, during the protectorate. The mood is not angry but bears the earliest seeds of the nationalist uprising against the preponderant ones, the colonists that history put above the indigenous peoples. A loud American film crew suddenly bursts onto the scene. There is a clash between all these worlds and the beginning of the end of an era. For Arabic-speakers, Nahbes sounds like the first-person plural conjugation of the verb “habes”, “to be at a standstill”.
Born to a Tunisian father and a French mother, Kaddour does not like autobiographical fiction. “Roots are for trees,” he says when asked about his origins. Early warning signs of history are what fascinate him most. After all, the book that introduced Kaddour to the general public was “Waltenberg” (2005, Goncourt for first novel), a star-crossed love story set in tumultuous early 20th century Europe. He enjoys quoting the opening words of Stendhal’s “Lucien Leuwen”, which never left his side in the five years it took him to write “Les Prépondérants”: “All the essentials are there: the character, the context, the history and the conflict.”
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