Tomorrow, They Won’t Dare to Murder Us

Joseph Andras’ debut novel, Tomorrow, They Won’t Dare to Murder Us (translated by Simon Leser) begins urgently in the present tense:

“Fernand waits two or three meters from the paved road, under the shelter of a cedar tree.”

The novel tells the true story of Fernand Iveton, the only Algerian-born Frenchman to be executed during the conflict between those who campaigned, at times violently, for Algerian independence and the French state, which could be equally violent in its response. Within two pages we are aware that Fernand’s mission is to plant a bomb at the factory where he works:

“No deaths, that was the main thing, no deaths. Better that little storeroom where nobody ever goes.”

That Fernand was clear in his intention that the bomb should not kill anyone, and that it did not, in fact, explode, made his sentence, and the refusal of then minister of justice Francois Mitterand to commute it, even more inexplicable, and inexcusable. By beginning the novel at the point when the bomb is planted, quickly followed by Fernand’s arrest, Andras involves the reader in the suddenness with which Fernand finds himself in captivity and subjected to torture.

However, although the novel tells Fernand’s story from the moment of his arrest to his death, at the same time it reveals something of his life before, and, in particular, his relationship with his wife, Helene. This juxtaposition of the violence of prison with the growth of their love for each other is not only effective in emphasising the horrific nature of his experiences but also in explaining how he is able to bear them. In this way, Andras makes the novel more bearable for the reader but simultaneously sadder, as we glimpse the life which will be ended in execution.

Even as Fernand is arrested and tortured, we see the same hours unfold for Helene as the police arrive at her door, as if to emphasise how connected the couple remain. Soon she, too, finds herself imprisoned:

“Helene is taken to a cell. Rounded-up prostitutes a few meters away. The water has been cut off.”

Yet this is immediately contrasted by Fernand’s first sight of her at the family pension where he is staying while he is in France receiving treatment for tuberculosis:

“Her eyes are little frosted pearls, she smiles and goes off with his order, explicit creases at the back of her skirt, ankles as slender as her wrists…”

In these flashbacks Andras creates a bucolic atmosphere with descriptions of nature: “The River Marne,” he tells us (for example), “sticks out a green tongue to the sky’s peaceful blue.” These provide a further contrast to the concrete of the prison, and to the pain Fernand is suffering. The torture he receives is the first sign that we should not expect the legal process to proceed in a civilised way. He is beaten and electrocuted, desperately trying to give nothing away until his comrades hear of his arrest and can go into hiding:

“An unrelenting throbbing inside. Organs like so many wounds. He begs for water and the blows to stop.”

Andras is unrelenting in his description of the pain Fernand suffers; there’s little attempt to humanise those inflicting it. Though the novel largely avoids detailed political arguments or historical background, the narrative directs it anger towards the same source as Fernand:

“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.”

Until the end, Fernand believes he will be shown mercy, as he tells his lawyer:

“Don’t worry, Joe, everything’s going to turn out well, Coty will pardon me, I’m sure. I didn’t loosen a single screw, didn’t knock a single tile down: how could they cut my head off for that?”

Unfortunately, although his death may not be just, it is politically expedient, and the novel not only demonstrates the French barbaric methods used in suppressing Algerian independence, but more generally the danger of allowing the law to be trumped by political and media demands. The novel makes this point with brutality at times, but also with love, allowing the humanity of the characters to shine through and suggest hope to the reader even as there is none for Fernand.

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2 Responses to “Tomorrow, They Won’t Dare to Murder Us”

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    Sounds really powerful Grant. I’ve only recenty begun to learn more about what the French did in Algeria (in a book on Camus, oddly enough) and it’s shocking. The telling of history through fiction can be really effective I think.

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