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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction



Silence is Death

by
Julija Šukys


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Silence is Death



Title: Silence is Death
Author: Julija Šukys
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2007
Length: 143 pages
Availability: Silence is Death - US
Silence is Death - UK
Silence is Death - Canada
  • The Life and Work of Tahar Djaout

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Our Assessment:

B+ : creative, fairly effective

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 28/9/2007 Lydia Wilson


  From the Reviews:
  • "The sheer range is ambitious (.....) Much of Šukys's book is speculative to the point of fiction. This seems at times self-indulgent, and can leave the reader feeling uncofortable (.....) One is left with various flavours, which is perhaps what she is aiming for" - Lydia Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The 'Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data' on the copyright page for Silence is Death includes the listing:

1. Djaout, Tahar, 1954-
       In suggesting Algerian writer Djaout is still alive, it's not very up-to-date: Djaout was murdered in 1993. But in a way this is also appropriate, as this text is a way of attempting to keep -- in some sense -- the author alive.
       Šukys' text isn't straightforward literary biography, and much of the book concerns itself with the question of how to present the man, memory, and writings. She worries, for example:
To forget the mere man is to kill him again. In writing the death of Tahar Djaout we must do so in a way that does not reduce the man to a symbol. But how can we give voice to the dead without doing violence to their memory ?
       Among her attempts is one in which she addresses part of the text to Djaout himself (in a letter to the dead author). And in the final section of the book she literally gives him voice, imagining 'A Posthumous Interview with Tahar Djaout'.
       Elsewhere Šukys also imagines a trip to Algeria, and in this creative hybrid approach -- mixing fact with invention -- to handling the material plays an interesting game of how we see an author, his writing, and -- in Djaout's case, especially -- his circumstances. Each reader likely pieces together what they know and hear about an author and his work and creates a sort of mental picture; here Šukys takes that much further (and goes more in depth).
       Along the way, Šukys does provide a good deal of information about Djaout and his writings. Only two of his novels are readily accessible in English translation, and so the larger body of his work likely isn't familiar to those who don't read French, but Šukys gives a good overview of his poetry and fiction, and at least some sense of his influential journalistic work.
       Šukys also explains the situation in Algeria well -- especially the targeting of intellectuals in the 1990s, as Djaout was one of the first prominent ones to be assassinated, but far from the last. In beginning the book with a visit to the Iowa town with an unlikely Algerian connexion, Elkader, she also sets an American context for the larger issues of Algeria over the past two decades, and the shifting attitudes towards the Islamic world in the US since the events of the fall of 2001.
       The book works best as an example of how we create our own stories in any book we read, how facts don't necessarily provide more than the fictions we spin around them. Šukys writes:
Every time we read, we enter into a kind of dialogue with the dead, by entering the book, or by internalizing the book. A dialogue with the dead is a thinking journey. And a thinking journey takes us through interior territories.
       Among the amusing observations she makes is a (mis)quote in the Lonely Planet guide to Algeria, garbling Djaout's words -- and identifying him as a woman. What is meant to be a factual guide proves no more reliable about even the most basic things .....
       A relatively short book, Silence is Death is an almost impressionistic account. There's considerable information about Djaout, and a sense of his significance is conveyed, making for a solid introduction to the author -- but it's in the way she has framed and presented the material that Šukys has created something that's of greater interest and appeal than the usual author-monograph.

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Links:

Silence is Death: Tahar Djaout: Books by Tahar Djaout under review: Other books involving Tahar Djaout under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Julija Šukys is a visiting scholar at McGill.

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© 2007-2008 the complete review

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