Originally published in 1958, The Question
is the book that opened the torture debate in France during Algeria’s war of independence and was the first book since the eighteenth century to be banned by the French government for political reasons.
At the time of his arrest by French paratroopers during the Battle of Algiers in June of 1957, Henri Alleg was a French journalist who supported Algerian independence. He was interrogated for one month. During this imprisonment, Alleg was questioned under torture, with unbelievable brutality and sadism. The Question is Alleg's profoundly moving account of that month and of his triumph over his torturers. Jean-Paul Sartre’s preface remains a relevant commentary on the moral and political effects of torture on both the victim and perpetrator.
This Bison Books edition marks the first time since 1958 that The Question has been published in the United States. For this edition Ellen Ray provides a foreword. James D. Le Sueur offers an introduction.
Henri Alleg is a journalist living in Paris and the author of many works in French. Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the most influential writers and existentialist philosophers of the twentieth century. Ellen Ray is the coauthor, with Michael Ratner, of Guantanamo: What the World Should Know. James D. Le Sueur is an associate professor of history at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is the editor of Mouloud Feraoun’s Journal, 1955–1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War (Nebraska 2000) and the author of Uncivil War: Intellectuals and Identity Politics during the Decolonization of Algeria, Second Edition (Nebraska 2005).
“The lessons of the French experience in Algeria came into play in 2003, when the Pentagon screened Gillo Pontecorvo’s classic 1965 film, The Battle of Algiers, for its special-operations chiefs as an example of the tactical use of torture and murder against terrorism. Now Henri Alleg’s incendiary little book, The Question, has been republished for the first time since 1958, with penetrating contextualization in the time of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib by historians Ellen Ray and James D. Le Sueur.”—David Levi Strauss, Bookforum
“The Question remains a political touchstone in France, and Mr. Alleg, who is still active in his mid-80s, is a familiar commentator there on the past crimes of French colonialism. But in the English-speaking world, the book has been largely forgotten. Now Bison Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, has published a new American edition, the first since 1958. It includes an afterword in which Mr. Alleg draws parallels between French conduct in Algeria and the American treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.”—The Chronicle of Higher Education
“I read The Question in one quick sitting, riveted. It packs a tremendous punch today. It ought be required reading in all the military academies and issued to all DOD employees GS-11 and above.”—David Levering Lewis
“[The Question] is a call to all of us to do everything we can to prevent the horrors of torture from continuing.”—People’s Weekly World
"[A] noble and in a sense ennobling book, the dominant impression it leaves is one of a progressive and finally an almost total degradation, a degradation both of persons—except for the tortured, the outlawed—and of social institutions. The Question is far more than an account of atrocities, however spectacular."—The Nation
"Even more extraordinary is the manner in which [Alleg] tells his story: in its studied calm, its refusal to give expression to hatred, it nearly reaches a level of serenity and thus increases its effectiveness. This book not only might have shocked the conscience of France . . . it should disturb the conscience of all men."—French Review
“Reading La Question as a work about identity and resistance to betrayal helps us to understand its significance and the identity of the man who wrote it. . . . Today, Alleg’s story is remembered and given meaning by men and women concerned with the future of France and Algeria.”—Donald Reid, International History Review
“Ellen Ray’s foreword, James D. Le Sueur’s introduction, which provides the historical context and significance of the book's publication, and a thoughtful afterword by Henri Alleg all connect past and present. The University of Nebraska Press is to be commended for bringing out this classic at a time when testimony from the past has something to offer to current debates over the Iraq war.”—H-Net Book Reviews H-France