This must be one of the most ambitious bande-dessinée
projects of the 80s and 90s – an attempt to tell the whole story of French Algeria from colonisation in 1830 right up to the eve of the war of independence. The author, Jacques Ferrandez – himself a pied noir
from Algiers – spent nine years working on it, and the five volumes collected in this edition dart happily between adventure, romance, political commentary, and family drama, all the time with a careful eye on historical detail.
The style is in the classical Franco-Belgian comics tradition – precise lines, lots of visual detail, rather brighter colours than you see in more modern authors. Different kinds of lettering are used effectively to distinguish between French and Arabic.
Each volume is a generation further on, increasingly focusing on the same family through the years. It's surprisingly moving to see characters portrayed as little children, grown adults, and then old men and women in consecutive books – somehow the artwork brings this home to you in a different way than the effects produced by, let's say, novelistic family sagas.
My favourite volume was the fourth, which centres on the centenary of l'Algérie française
in 1930 – perhaps because it's about a reporter struggling morally with what his editors are expecting him to say, something I can well relate to. Ferrandez's story concentrates on the pieds noirs
but his main sympathies are reserved for the Arab population, whose increasingly untenable position through the 30s, 40s and 50s is once again made depressingly obvious. He wrote a second cycle of the Carnets d'Orient
in the 2000s, covering the years of the Algerian War, but I've read so much about the war recently that I'm not sure I can take that right now.