Omar Benlaala
© Corentin Fohlen / Divergence Images

Omar Benlaala

It’s funny: sometimes life is waiting for you around the bend, winking as if to say you haven’t been forgotten, even if you believe otherwise.

Between 2014 and 2018, Omar Benlaala published three books featuring the stories of Franco-Algerian Parisians from the last half century. They reveal an understanding of contemporary society and questions of identity which have earned this writer growing recognition.

Updated on 24/07/2019

2 min

In 1974, Omar Benlaala was born to a family of Algerian immigrants from Ménilmontant (Paris, France). In secondary school, the teenager who dreamed of becoming a philosopher is told to finish his studies with a secretarial college course. A frustrated school drop-out, he spends six months in prison and realises he wants something more from life. Omar first turns to religion before taking on a series of different jobs and finally finding his way into writing.

Omar Benlaala is a storyteller, preferably of true stories which resonate with his own.

His first book, The Beard (“La Barbe") (2014), tells his own story: in the mid-1990s, he became one of the first Muslim men to wear a traditional religious beard and garb (“les barbus”) and preach in the Paris region. In his novel Breaking In (“L'Effraction”) (2016), Omar Benlaala uses fiction to create a sensitive response to Edouard Louis’ History of Violence (“Histoire de la violence") (2016). You’ll Never Live in Paris (“Tu n’habiteras jamais Paris”) which appeared in 2018, follows the story of his father, Bouzid Benlaala, a mason who immigrated to Paris in the 1960s, and that of Martin Nadaud, a mason born in 1815 in La Creuse whose tale of exile reflects Bouzid’s. The first becomes a trade unionist, the second a Member of Parliament.

Immigration and plural identities are central to Omar Benlaala's writing. In his latest book You’ll Never Live in Paris (2018), he blends French and Arabic: “The idea was to preserve my father’s voice, I wanted him to be heard”. The European and North African media increasingly echoing his writings. In his everyday life, the writer supports French secondary school students in their career planning as the educational manager of the Un Stage Et Après association, convinced that inter-generational support is one of the keys to success.

  • 1989


    Omar Benlaala leaves school after being assigned to a secretarial course even though he dreams of studying philosophy.

  • 2015


    Publication of The Beard (“La Barbe”) by Seuil, an autobiographical narrative.

  • 2016


    Breaking In (“L’Effraction”), his first novel, is published by Editions de l'Aube.

  • 2018


    Publication of his third book You Will Never Live in Paris (“Tu n'habiteras jamais Paris” - Flammarion Editions) an homage to his father and to exiles.

  • 2019


    He receives the Porte Dorée Award from the History of Immigration Museum for his book You Will Never Live in Paris.

The Institut français and the author

The Institut français is a partner of the public institution Palais de la Porte dorée - Musée national de l'histoire de l'immigration. Numerous collaborations have emerged since 2016 (conferences, exhibitions, training programmes). The Institut français is member of the the jury selection of the literary award "le Prix littéraire du Palais de la Porte dorée".

L'institut français, LAB