In the wake of Algeria’s “black decade” of violence in the 1990s, references to a star (or nedjma in Arabic) came to be inscribed and contextualised within a diverse range of novels. Its function varies but seems in every case to prompt a reflection on Algeria’s revolutionary past and its uncertain present. Such novels include Malika Mokeddem, Les Hommes qui marchent (1999), Salim Bachi, Le Chien d’Ulysse (2001), Mourad Djebel, Les Sens interdits (2001), Aziz Chouaki, L’Étoile d’Alger (2002) and Mustapha Benfodil, Archéologie du chaos (amoureux) (2007). These novelists draw upon the emblematic power of the star and its centrality to a symbolic condensation of the nation and its revolutionary struggle given form by Kateb Yacine in his novel Nedjma (1956), which was published during the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62). In juxtaposing these two periods – the one anticolonial and the other postcolonial – we can reflect on how the aesthetics and creative processes of the earlier period are reworked in order to prompt agency. In this way, such novels suggest that anticolonial aesthetics can serve not only to think about decolonization but also about the failures, if not the failure, of the postcolonial state. At the same time, the postcolonial state continues to draw upon that same symbolic reservoir to reassert its political legitimacy. How writers and artists rework, resist or appropriate the aesthetics of Algeria’s revolution, creating a dialectic of past and present, is central to this essay.