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This article is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.

Pied-Noir Matthew Sweeney
Outside the Gare St Lazare, the second busiest railway station in Paris, was a stunning sculpture by the French artist Arman, a jumbled tower of clocks. Each of these clocks showed a different time, so all the time in the world was there – the choice was the viewer’s, and not surprisingly then, the idea of time travel presented itself. I therefore decided on the spot I’d go back to the time of the Pieds-Noir, and I’d do it by adopting a Pied-Noir persona.

I reasoned I needed to go back to try to make sense of the current explosive situation – to see what led up to this stand-off between the French and the violent Islamists. I knew it was a complicated issue. It was far too simplistic to connect Algeria in the 1960s and its aftermath with the actions of Isis. But that crowd would not have liked what the French did there.

I knew if I was being absolutely fair I should adopt a native Algerian persona, a Berber, but it was not my choice to have been born a white European, and I thought I’d stick with that. I sat down on the floor and had a good think about the character I was going to adopt. First of all, I decided I’d lived in Oran. My parents would have migrated to France in 1965, the second wave of the mass evacuation. This would have got me to Paris just in time for secondary school, and no doubt, two or three years of bullying. What would my name have been? How ...


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