A novelist whose book was rejected by French teenagers because of its Algerian theme is due to visit their school and meet them face to face.
Akli Tadjer, a French writer with Algerian roots, says he is going to the Somme region school to “understand how young people can think like that”.
He was invited by a teacher who complained about some of her pupils’ “racist remarks”.
Algeria achieved independence from France in 1962 after a bloody war.
Bitterness remains on both sides, with refugees and their descendants having had difficulty returning to Algeria.
What happened at the school?
In September, a teacher at the Lycée Pierre Mendès-France in Péronne asked her class to read extracts from Tadjer’s novel Le porteur de cartable (The Satchel-Carrier).
While not on the school syllabus, the 2002 novel was chosen by the teacher as part of a “reading journey”, French reports say.
It tells the story of the war in Algeria from the perspective of two children, one the son of an independence fighter, the other the son of a French colonist forced to flee Algeria.
Some students, the teacher later told the writer in an email, refused to read the extracts.
She said they complained the author was not French, the story had nothing to with France, the book contained words in Arabic and the hero’s name was Messaoud (a popular boy’s name in the Arab world).
In reality, the author is French and Algeria’s colonial history is bound up with France, as much of it was part of France until 1962.
“The remarks were truly racist,” the teacher wrote in her message, posted by Tadjer on Facebook.
The school took action against the seven students involved, giving three serious punishments, French radio reports. A pupil who refused to pronounce the name Messaoud was sent before a disciplinary committee.
According to school inspector Jérôme Dambla, the pupils had prepared for the author’s visit and one of them wanted to apologise to him.
He was expected to meet 25 pupils at the school for an hour on Friday, local newspaper Le Courrier picard reported.
How does the writer view his visit?
“I am going there to understand how young people who are going to come of age next year and are going to vote can think like that,” he told French radio. “Racism is not an idea, it is an offence in France.”
Tadjer pointed out that young Arab soldiers, many of them named Messaoud, had died on the battlefields on World War One in the Somme region.
“To not pronounce the name Messaoud is like killing the young soldiers who died for them all over again,” he said.
Tadjer, who was born in Paris in 1954, has been writing prize-winning novels and scripts since the mid-1980s.
Why is Algeria still such a thorny subject?
The war of independence which raged from 1954 to 1962 saw atrocities committed by both sides and ended with the exodus of Algeria’s European population, known as Pieds Noirs, as well as those indigenous Algerians who had sided with France, known as Harkis.
Since the 1960s, other Algerians have immigrated to France and they now make up one of the country’s biggest ethnic communities.
Many live on the margins of society in run-down housing estates, known for social problems, and say they face racist discrimination in the jobs market.
France has long campaigned to stamp out racism, with the government announcing this year a new drive to rid social media of hate speech after a rise in incidents targeting Jews and Muslims.