Book Review: Jill Jarvis, Decolonizing Memory: Algeria and the Politics of Testimony (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021)


  • T. S. Kavitha Banaras Hindu University



Algeria, memory, decolonization


Jill Jarvis’s book Decolonizing Memory: Algeria and the Politics of Testimony is a promising contribution to the flourishing research being done in the field of Memory Studies, that is challenging the Western and in this case the French politics of testimony from the postcolonial point of view. This book can be read from the larger ethical-political perspective in the field of International Relations, where there is a growing demand for Reconciliation Commissions to address archives beyond the legal framework. The book, as the title suggests, brings together both Postcolonial Studies and Memory studies in the context of Algerian history. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, Jarvis’s deconstructive approach to testimony and memory examines how literature archives the two as forms of resilience, as bearers of witness to experiences that surpass both time and space to fill the gaps in official forms of testimony. As more and more nations are demanding compensation from their perpetrators for past violence and crime against humanity on the political front, this book’s relevance is heightened with its demand for justice and reform, and not merely to forgive and forget. The work of deconstruction that Jarvis undertakes to break down familiar language through reflections on the idea of Muslim, justice, witness, and revolt among others, she critiques the age-old practices of testimonial interrogations and censure that destabilises the multifaceted embodiment of Empire. “France remains constitutively haunted by the empire that it has tried both to exorcise and atone for (12)” succinctly covers the period of Algerian colonisation in 1830 to France’s continued endeavour to redeem and absolve itself from its colonial violence that has been and still remains under the shroud of wilful Western amnesia. Jarvis attempts to expose the denial of the paradox of the French Republican values they are so proud of, to demand justice and reform for the most abject.