A young revolutionary plants a bomb in a factory on the outskirts of Algiers during the Algerian War. The bomb is timed to explode after work hours, so no one will be hurt. But the authorities have been watching. He is caught, the bomb is defused, and he is tortured, tried in a day and sentenced to death by guillotine. A routine event, perhaps, in a brutal conflict that ended the lives of more than a million Muslim Algerians.
But what if the militant is a ‘pied-noir’? What if his lover was a partisan in the French Resistance? What happens to a ‘European’ who chooses the side of anti-colonialism?
By turns lyrical, meditative, and heart-stoppingly suspenseful, this debut novel by Joseph Andras, based on the true story of a young man named Fernand Iveton (and a young politician named François Mitterrand), was a literary and political sensation in France, winning the Prix Goncourt for First Novel and being acclaimed by Le Monde as “vibrantly lyrical and somber” and by the journal La Croix as a “masterpiece.”
Tomorrow They Won’t Dare to Murder Us is available from Verso Books.
One of the two names “given” by Fernand is currently asleep. His bedroom door opens, handguns and automatics at the ready, hands up! Flashlights are pointed at his face. Someone hits the light switch. Fabien gets up, dazed, but he understands full well what is happening. Iveton wishes you a good evening, an officer adds, as if it were not already all too clear. The room is turned upside down and electric wires are found in a cardboard box, under a pair of pants. Fabien takes a punch to the solar plexus. Doubled over, trying to catch his breath, he takes another and falls
to the ground. Is that what you make your bombs with? Go to hell, he answers, before a boot hits his ribs.
Hachelaf’s wife has also been also arrested. They are both taken to the police station, where they act as if they have never met: no, his face doesn’t ring a bell, never seen it, sorry. Fabien is undressed: a stick beats the soles of his feet, electrodes are placed on his testicles, while he keeps
promising them hell and the devil, imperialist bastards. He is then coated in a strange liquid he is unable to name, ointment, the cops say, guffawing. Man’s capacity to laugh is what distinguishes him from other creatures, Rabelais wrote. It’s not a pretty sight. They spread it on his “parts,”
but it hurts just as much in inverted commas: an acidic sensation, burning, gnawing, devouring, he howls, just talk and the pain will stop. No, he doesn’t know where the laboratory is, no more than he knows who makes the bombs. Fabien bites the inside of his cheeks and not a word
comes out of his mouth.
Night passes over his slashed body.
Fernand wakes up. Or rather, they wake him. Aching allover, struggling to walk straight. He rubs his nose— a lingering feeling that he is full of water. The press is here, waiting for you, get dressed. The Director of National Security is up, too, and in his suit, while the police chief, a
certain Parrat, tries to match him. A dozen journalists and photographers are ranged opposite. Fernand is in cuffs, his hands in front of him. A frenzy of flashes, blinding white spurts. He squints, hair disheveled and greasy, eyes lowered. He is told that his name is on every front page in the Algerian press. No doubt, his deed done, he would have placed the deadly device in some car, tramway, or shop, where women, children, and innocents would once more have been horribly mutilated, asserts La Dépêche quotidienne . . . Questions gush out, gobs of spit for public
opinion, an animal to the slaughterhouse. He answers as he can, without getting into details, trying not to say more than is necessary. His voice quavers, wrecked by hunger and yesterday’s torments. No, his cell has nothing to do with the attacks on the Milk Bar and La Cafétéria; no, he is not a murderer but a political activist. His actions were only directed at the factory, at a plant, that’s all, not one person was going to perish in the explosion, he had made sure of it personally, checking with the comrades. Everything was planned so as to avoid bloodshed; yes, he is
a communist. He answers all the questions, crossing and uncrossing his hands, ill at ease. They inform him that another bomb, on which was written the name “Jacqueline” (his had “Betty,” a friend of Taleb’s— but the journalists know that, too), was found in a CRS van at dawn, in the
center of town: what has he to say about that? I wasn’t aware, I don’t know anything about that bomb. So, he thinks, Jacqueline found a way to get rid of it. It never exploded: technical failure.
Djilali is bent over his typewriter. He rubs his eyes. His right eyelid twitches nervously. Jacqueline massages his nape with one hand while looking over his shoulder at the pamphlet he is writing: the FLN claims, without hesitation, the action conducted by comrade Fernand Iveton. He is as courageous a patriot as any. The Algeria of tomorrow is his country, one where colonialism will be nothing but a bad memory, a baleful event in the history of the exploitation of man by man. One where Arabs will no longer be made to grovel before others. A sovereign State, independent from France. Jacqueline asks if he plans to send it to the Front for approval— yes, of course, it’s a little sensitive at the moment, best to be on the safe side.
Fabien is lying face up, his arms stretched to either side, his lower lip pissing blood. Unable to hold out, he surrendered two names.
Fernand was tortured all day: he gave up three. Of what stuff are heroes made, he asks himself, tied to the bench, head hanging backwards? With what skin, what frame, bones, tendons, nerves, tissues . . . with what flesh, with what soul are they put together? Forgive me, comrades . . . His shoulders are not broad enough to take on the mantle of the prefect of Eure-et-Loir, Jean Moulin, alias Max, who croaked, his head a mass of bruises, on a train to Berlin. He does not have the guts to call on History with a capital H. Forgive me, comrades, I hope at least that you hid well, I held out as long as I could . . .
Today, thirty or so rebels were killed by gunfire or bombs in the backcountry.
But still no war, no, not that. Power minds its language— its fatigues tailored from satin, its butchery smothered by propriety.
Fernand drinks a little but still gets nothing to eat.
Joseph Andras is the author of the novels De nos frères blessés and Kanaky. Awarded the Prix Goncourt for De nos frères blessés (Tomorrow They Won’t Dare to Murder Us), he refused the prize, explaining his belief that “competition and rivalry were foreign to writing and creation”.