- Memory, Empire, and Postcolonialism: Legacies of French Colonialism
Part of the excellent series "After the Empire: The Francophone World and Postcolonial France" edited by Valérie Orlando, Memory, Empire, and Postcolonialism tackles the legacies of colonialism in contemporary French and francophone cultures. In a succinct and pointed introduction, Alec Hargreaves contextualizes the essays of the volume that focus "on the complexities of the memory work generated by French colonialism and its aftermath, and especially on the interface between political and cultural dynamics" (5). Divided into three parts according to geographical criteria, this collection addresses issues from all major areas of the francophone world, from Acadia to Indochina, by scholars in a variety of fields. Algeria occupies a very prominent place (half of the fourteen essays), which can be justified by the fact that issues linked to the Algerian war have dominated the public debate in France in the past decade, following a period of relative amnesia regarding the former colonial empire.
The first part, "North America and the Caribbean," contains a remarkable analysis of the differences between the French and the Caribbean commemorations of the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery (Reinhardt), an interesting study of the neglected legacy of the Haitian revolution (Nesbitt), a contribution on time and memory in Condé's La belle Créole (Simek), and on France in the collective memory of Acadians (Desalvo).
The second part, "Africa and Asia," features an excellent article on the documentary La croisière noire and its renewed popularity (Levine), two fascinating studies about the parallels drawn on the one hand between WWII and the French-Indochina war (Ho), and on the other between the French Resistance and the FLN as the Jeanson network did during its trial (Ulloa). The use of torture during the Algerian War is central to the remaining contributions: an outstanding essay on colonial violence and national identity focused on the cases of Garne and Ighilahriz involving torture and rape (Cole), a solid study of the textual forms of Ighilahriz's testimony on torture (Durmelat), a captivating analysis of the provocative reworking of filiation and affiliation in a novel by Ehni (Rosello), and a piece on Djebar's La femme sans sépulture (Martin). [End Page 189]
The third part, "Postcolonial Migrations," deals with the similarities between the assimilationist and multiculturalist models denoted in French heritage films and novels on the one hand and Beur literature and banlieue films on the other (Oscherwitz), the collective remembering of the Algerian War in novels by Algerian and Franco-Algerian authors Bey, Tadjer, and Rahmani (Ireland), and the trauma of the Franco-Algerian encounter in plays by Algerian playwrights living in France (Chouaki, Benaïssa, Gallaire), and by Demarcy, a French author (Gross).
Most of the essays (with the exception of two) deal with areas that are relevant to readers of RAL. This collection, an insightful addition to the scholarship on memories of the French Empire, reaches beyond the confines of French and francophone studies, as some contributions draw parallels between France's colonial history and the United States' current policies (such as the Abu Ghraib scandal in Nesbitt and Cole's contributions).