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The Harkis

The Wound That Never Heals

In this haunting chronicle of betrayal and abandonment, ostracism and exile, racism and humiliation, Vincent Crapanzano examines the story of the Harkis, the quarter of a million Algerian auxiliary troops who fought for the French in Algeria’s war of independence. After tens of thousands of Harkis were massacred by other Algerians at the end of the war, the survivors fled to France where they were placed in camps, some for as long as sixteen years. Condemned as traitors by other Algerians and scorned by the French, the Harkis became a population apart, and their children still suffer from their parents’ wounds. Many have become activists, lobbying for recognition of their parents’ sacrifices, compensation, and an apology.

More than just a retelling of the Harkis’ grim past and troubling present, The Harkis is a resonant reflection on how children bear responsibility for the choices their parents make, how personal identity is shaped by the impersonal forces of history, and how violence insinuates itself into every facet of human life.

248 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2011

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: European History


“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

“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

“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

Table of Contents

1. The Wound That Never Heals

2. The Historical Background

3. The Harkis

4. The War’s Aftermath

5. The Camps

6. After the Camps

7. Reflections

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