restricted access Voices from the North African Immigrant Community in France: Immigration and Identity in Beur Narratives (review)
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Reviewed by
Alec G. Hargreaves. Voices from the North African Immigrant Community in France: Immigration and Identity in Beur Narratives. New York: Berg, 1992. $45.00.

Many scholars of contemporary literature take pleasure in the theoretical debates surrounding the problematics of diversity and identity in a multicultural world. But for the minorities who make up this "diverse element," the articulation of personal identity is more of a daily struggle than it is an intellectual indulgence. The Beurs, the French-born children of North African immigrants to the former imperial power, are one such minority. As the offspring of a relationship characterized by hate more than love, growing in a nation—indeed a continent—where overt racism is on the rise, the Beur generation must affirm and valorize itself in order better to come to grips with its incongruities. "The creative works of Beur writers," Hargreaves indicates, "may be read as an attempt to bridge the gaps and contradictions which characterise their creators' lives."

Hargreaves's book starts by examining the mechanics of the linguistic catch-22 of the Beurs: "In the construction of a sense of self, no borrowings are more important than the signifying systems through which the subject thinks and speaks," he avers. Yet the Beur writers, schooled in French, must borrow from the very tool of their alienation, articulating and constructing their identity with the language of the oppressor. The result is a literature of conflict, of problematic allegiance, of painful duality and fragmentation, exposing the discontinuities of the postcolonial reality.

This turmoil makes up the richness of Beur writing, which Hargreaves argues is intrinsically dialogic, revealing the multi-voicedness of each protagonist. Hargreaves analyzes the writings of seventeen Beur writers, with examples of the heteroglossia characteristic of their novels, novels which orchestrate different speech types and centers of consciousness, creating a totalizing narrative which dispenses with the quotation marks that would attribute sections of the discourse to different speakers: "Dialogism is at its most intense in seamless robes of this kind," he explains. Hargreaves then examines the identity that emerges from the confluence of discourses, the unique yet polyglot self created by two cultures t odds with each other. His study combines careful analysis of the formal structures of Beur writing—autobiography and fiction, time and space, intertextuality and audience—and a wealth of insight derived from interviews he conducted with all but one of the writers, along with numerous unpublished manuscripts put at his disposal.

Dialogism is an indicator of change, transformation, and growth. Beur literature is still in the nascent stage, and most Beur writers have only published a single novel. The real creative talent of these authors remains to be proven. But their contribution to cultural awareness cannot be overlooked, for they have succeeded in unmasking the inequities of the French system, that herald of liberty, fraternity, and equality for all, which cherishes a national anthem that is a militant call to arms, urging the citizens to rid their soil of foreign blood.

The field of postcolonial criticism, because it is so young, provides fertile ground for opportunistic articles that will hopefully be weeded out as more careful [End Page 979] research gets published. This makes Voices from the North African Immigrant Community a truly exceptional work. Not only is it the first full-length study of Beur writing, it is unquestionably the fruit of thorough research, of a commitment to scholarship that informs, educates, and teases readers into ridding themselves of their academic complacence in order to better effect change.

Nada Elia
Purdue University
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