- Associated Press - Thursday, August 12, 2010

ALGIERS, ALGERIA (AP) - Tahar Wattar, one of Algeria’s leading Arab-language writers, who used his novels to explore his nation’s struggle for independence from France and its post-colonial history, has died, a friend and the official APS news agency said. He was 74.

A noted writer and friend, Wassini Laaredj, told The Associated Press that Wattar died Thursday after a “long illness.” Wattar had been hospitalized for cancer treatment on various occasions in Paris.

Wattar was known for his adversarial position toward Algeria’s French-language authors, whom he at one point denounced as “vestiges of colonialism.”

One of the North African nation’s most prolific Arabic-language authors, Wattar revisited Algeria’s post-colonial history in his novels, sometimes using symbolism and allegory, as the nation tried to form an identity following its 1962 independence after more than 130 years of French rule and a bloody war.

The Arabic language, along with the Islamic faith, was a crucial component of the one-party state in forging the identity of a newly free nation.

Among Wattar’s best-known novels are “Al Laz,” his first novel _ written in 1974 _ and named after the lead character in the book, “A Mule’s Wedding” (1978) and “The Fisherman and the Palace” (1980).

While he appeared to support the nationalist movement, and had the blessing of the state, Wattar subtly evoked the downside, for instance portraying in some instances the disappointment that reality delivered as compared to the ideal.

Wattar also wrote plays as well as short stories such as “The Martyrs Are Coming Back This Week” and “Smoke From My Heart.”

In addition, he presided over the Al Djahizia cultural association, which awards annual prizes to young writers and poets in the Arab world.

Born in Sedratta, in the eastern region of Batna, some 420 kilometers (260 miles) from Algiers, Wattar had his first story published in 1956, in neighboring Tunisia, but turned to journalism before launching into novels. He founded weekly newspapers in the eastern city of Constantine and in Algiers in 1963, according to his cultural association.

He remained active in publishing, founding a magazine dedicated to short stories in 1996, among other things.