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The Harkis: The Wound That Never Heals Hardcover – July 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“This is an extraordinary book written with great tact and delicacy on the complex weaving of themes of violence, betrayal, grief, and inheritance of responsibility in the worlds of the Harkis who find themselves on the wrong side of history. The style of writing mirrors the shifts of perspectives on the Harkis in French and Algerian social worlds, and it makes us feel the difficult terrain traversed by the ethnographer as he confronts his own taken-for-granted moral assumptions about what it is to listen to those who must confront violence from positions for which there are no standing languages of either heroic virtue or suffering victims. This is a stunning achievement.”

(Veena Das, Johns Hopkins University)

“A moving account of a people haunted by the past and imprisoned in the present. This is vintage Crapanzano: learned, sophisticated, and sharply aware of the moral contradictions and willful blindness of human life.”

(Tanya Luhrmann, Stanford University)

“If Vincent Crapanzano had only sought to offer his visceral account of the enduring ways in which the experience of political exclusion, personal estrangement, and social apartness saturates multiple generations of Harkis, their bodies and minds, this book would be an extraordinary achievement. But it piercingly and powerfully does so much more. Betrayal, despair, and rage are the seared marks of successive political violences that permeate the intimacies of family relations, that haunt the emotional lives of the young who remain tethered to and torn by the guarded silences of their fathers and by their stories that cannot be told. Should we imagine we already know what it means to belong nowhere, to be shorn of the possibility of accounting for oneself, here is a book whose political and psychological insights recast what it is to write a history of the present at new depths and new heights.”

(Ann Stoler, The New School)

“A work of rare sensitivity and deep psychological insight, The Harkis is magnificent. At once a history of one of the darkest chapters in French history and a profound reflection on human emotion, pain, suffering, and most importantly betrayal, this is a stunningly original exploration of the recesses of the human condition.” (Paul Stoller, West Chester University)

The Harkis sheds light on one of the most somber chapters of the Franco-Algerian relationship. By means of extensive multigenerational interviews, Crapanzano brings to life the tragedy of the Algerian men who fought for France during the Algerian war of independence and were then abandoned. These men and their families were initially condemned to death, literally, by their country of origin and, metaphorically, by their country of adoption. Herded into camps on their arrival in France and later into out-of-the-way communes their shabby treatment past and present is a stark reminder that the wounds of the war are still very raw.  Fluidly written and skillfully analyzed, Crapanzano demonstrates the power of memory, both in its articulation and in its silences. This is oral history at its very best.”
(Patricia M. E. Lorcin, University of Minnesota)

“Crapanzano has developed a person-centered anthropology attuned to the psychological dimensions of the human experience. Whether focusing on a single person (e.g., his 1980 portrait of the Moroccan Tuhami) or a set of interlocutors from a defined group (e.g., his 1985 ethnography of white South Africans), he has consistently resisted the sociological impulse to treat individuals as exemplars of social types, insisting instead on the ‘depth’ revealed in the particular. Such a methodology requires the humility of the ethnographer, a constant recognition that ‘the mind, the subjective experience, of the other always remains opaque’, and a self-reflexive mode of exposition that highlights the researcher’s own limits, confusions, and dialogical development.”
(Paul A. Silverstein Anthropological Quarterly 2011-11-10)

“Combining interviews, literary analysis and psychoanalytical insights, Vincent Crapanzano traces the ways in which betrayal and powerlessness have played out in the lives of the Harkis and their children. For Crapanzano, their tragic story, skillfully recounted in this reflective and original ethnography, is a ‘wound that never heals’ [….] When dealing with the historical aspects, Crapanzano’s account is both original and illuminating. From his consideration of female auxiliaries (disparagingly known by the French as ‘harkettes’), to the prevalence of emasculation, both real, as a form of punishment, and psychological, as a result of their powerlessness in exile, Crapanzano’s study gives the Harkis a hitherto little considered, but nevertheless valuable context [….] The Harkis is a significant addition to the burgeoning literature on the Algerian War and its consequences, and it offers a troubling reminder of the shadow that the Algerian War continues to cast on contemporary France.”—Times Literary Supplement
(Sarah Howard Times Literary Supplement 2012-04-06)

“Vincent Crapanzano’s moving book makes it clear that [the Harkis] were neither entirely victims nor perpetrators, neither entirely heroes nor villains, neither entirely innocent nor guilty.”    
(Tobias Kelly Public Books)

“Offers a moving and often disturbing portrait of a traumatized people and a thought-provoking consideration of the role of memory and storytelling in the forging of identity.”
(Katrin Schultheiss Historian)

About the Author

Vincent Crapanzano is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center. Among his books are Tuhami: A Portrait of a Moroccan and Imaginative Horizons: An Essay in Literary-Philosophical Anthropology, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (July 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226118762
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226118765
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #270,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In Writing Culture, a collection of essays published in 1986, Vincent Crapanzano accused Clifford Geertz of foul writing and raised against him charges of ethnocentrism, male chauvinism, and sloppy metaphors. Knowing Geertz's exacting style and cultural sensitivity, the least one can say is that Crapanzano set the bar very high for himself. Actually, he didn't have to raise himself up to reach that standard: others did it for him, and proposed his earlier writings as an example of what a postmodern ethnography should look like. In the same collection of essays, Stephen Tyler called forth the formation of a post-modern ethnography that would experiment with new forms of writing and pay attention to the reciprocity of perspectives, the dialogic context of fieldwork, and the fragmentary nature of experience. He recognized that instances of such a postmodern ethnography were few, but he specifically referred to Crapanzano's Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Written in the same vein, The Harkis: The Wound That Never Heals could also fall within this category of postmodern ethnography. What makes it postmodern, and is it still ethnography?

People usually associate postmodernism with difficult words such as hermeneutics, post-structuralism, semiotics, or deconstruction; less often with plain speaking and accessibility of style. The Harkis comes without theoretical strings attached. Sentences are short, style is accessible, and reading poses no particular difficulty. Scholarly references are few and woven into the text or relegated in footnotes. Authors like Pierre Bourdieu or Giorgio Agamben are conveyed to bring perspectives and enrich meaning, but they do not form part of a theoretical argument.
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