Interview with longlisted author Amin Zaoui
When did you begin writing Leg Over Leg and where did the inspiration for it come from?
The idea for Leg Over Leg had occupied me for five years before I started writing it. This novel, which recounts the biography of a family against the backdrop of Algeria’s modern history, was an obsession that tormented me and kept me up as if I didn’t want to forget any of its details. I began writing it three years ago and then left it. I was waiting for one of the characters to die so I could write about her freely. That was the character closest to my heart. I wanted there to be a distance between me and her so I could see her clearly. When I heard of her passing, I immediately resumed writing. After that I didn’t leave the text until I’d finished it, as if I were speaking to this character before my memory would fail me.
The novel is about the biography of a family that often intersects with fragments from my own family history and that of my extended family, my aunts and uncles, their husbands, wives and children – a family the size of a small tribe. It accordingly paints a picture of Algeria during the travesty of the liberation war, with the exile, displacement, loyalty and betrayal it witnessed. The revolution turned brothers into enemies due to the different ideological positions that each adopted. The novel is a reading of Algeria after the liberation war; it follows the first years of independence, which was the stage of building a national stage, with the military coup and the socialist tendencies that determined everyone’s fate. The novel is a defense of individual liberty in the face of the “herd” culture that is imposed upon people.
Did it take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
I wrote it in one go – in one breath – after it had lived with me and consumed me for five years. I spent six months writing, and three months editing.
I finished the first draft of Leg Over Leg in Normandy in northern France, where the air is like a prayer. Then I returned to read and proofread it in Algiers, exactly in the middle of the capital, in Telemly, the neighborhood of seven wonders, a dynamic and lively district.
I wrote Leg Over Leg to the music of “silence” on one hand and “noise” on the other.
How have readers and critics received it?
It was a special reception from the readers. A special celebration was held at the International Book Fair of Algiers, and all the copies there were sold out in a matter of days.
There are also a number of theses in progress in Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian and French universities.
The novel was the topic of many discussions on TV and radio as well as written reviews. It was also discussed widely on social media.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
I am working on a new novel about dismantling the relationship between a preacher and creativity. I’m doing this by rereading Arab and Islamic Heritage, and by considering the issues of social and intellectual freedom.
It is a project that explores the relationship of Arabs and Muslims with “the past” and how the past can be an indication of progress, as well as a factor for repression and empty nostalgia.