Literature

Robert Dessaix, André Gide and the Poor Boys of Algeria

Robert Dessaix and I just missed bumping into each other in Biskra, by about thirty years. I came by bus from Oran. Dessaix’s twenty-first-century journey to Algeria began in Sydney in 1958. Aged fourteen, he had a Christmas holidays job in a city bookshop. Dusting the wooden shelves he found the recently published, and expurgated, Penguin edition of André Gide’s If It Die with its tantalising front cover blurb: “An uninhibited autobiography recording experiences of and reflections on French life from Gide’s childhood to the eve of his marriage.” The words “uninhibited” and “French life” struck the boy with an…

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