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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 14, 2004

Algerian Novelist Benaissa Dissects Terrorism In Sept. 28 Reading

Grinnell College faculty member Jan Gross, the translator of Algerian/French novelist Slimane Benaissa, will read from Benaissa's newest novel, "The Last Night of a Damned Soul," at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28, in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

The reading, sponsored in part by the University of Iowa International Writing Program and the UI Department of French and Italian, is free and open to the public.

Benaissa will be in Prairie Lights for the bi-lingual reading from his story of an Arab-American who falls in with dangerous radicals -- his first book to be translated into English.

Benaissa's writings have established him as one of France's most important thinkers on the relationship of Islam and the West. Inspired by his grief over 9/11, "The Last Night of a Damned Soul" tells the story of a young Arab-American man who joins a Muslim fundamentalist group and winds up conspiring to plot a terrorist attack.

A Publishers Weekly preview concluded, "this is a chilling look at a matter that is unfortunately all too real, and Benaissa's attempt, as a Muslim himself, to respond to the September 11 attacks is both poignant and potent."

Jan and Daniel Gross, who collaborated on the translation, are faculty members in Grinnell's Department of French, where Benaissa is a guest.

Jan Gross has focused her recent research on Algerian playwrights living in France, resulting in articles in Theatre Journal ("The Tragedy of Algeria: Slimane Benaissa's Drama of terrorism") and Modern Drama ("Performing the Future of Memory: Algerian Playwrights in France").

Benaissa is the product of a multicultural heritage that combines Berber, Arabic and French elements. He has resided in France since 1993 when terrorist threats forced him to leave Algeria.

In more than a dozen plays, three novels and numerous conferences and workshops, Benaissa has confronted issues of political violence and religious intolerance by presenting both sides of complex and controversial topics including terrorism, torture, Arab-Israeli relations and the wearing of the veil.

Trained in math and electrical engineering but drawn to literary studies, Benaissa adapted and translated plays by Brecht, Aeschylus and Kateb Yacine from French into Arabic. As an actor he performed widely throughout Algeria and founded Algeria's first independent theater company.

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NOTE: In its original spelling Benaissa has a dieresis over the "i," indicating that it should be pronounced approximately "bay-nah-ee-ssa."