- North Africa: Literary Crossroads
The enterprising efforts of The Literary Review’s guest editors, Eric Sellin and Hédi Abdel-Jaouad assisted by Rabah Seffal for the Tamazight section, are highly commendable. This special issue dedicated to North African literature fills a serious vacuum and a dire need for translated texts for classroom use. The publication of translated Maghribi texts to English is a welcome addition to the growing though still limited corpus of translations of literary works from both the Maghrib and the Mashriq available in the US.
In the introduction written by Sellin and Abdel-Jaouad, the two authors define the geographic confines of the area they refer to as North Africa. They trace the multicultural heritage of the Maghrib resulting from a superposition of various foreign invasions that preceded the most recent and last one, the French occupation. The relationship between colonial policy and literature is pointed out in a straightforward manner, much to the benefit of the lay reader. The authors clearly target the general public rather than the specialist in the field of Maghribi literature. They give a brief survey of the literary activities in the area, beginning with the French occupation and indicating the major writers and their most outstanding works. The issue of the use of French language and its survival in the countries of the Maghrib in the post-independence years, in spite of predictions to the contrary, is also raised. While the pioneers continued to write, gradually moving away from national and ethnographic themes, adopting new forms in the process, new writers appeared on the scene. The survey traces the development of the literature written in Arabic, in French, as well as in Amazight, indicating the factors that contributed to the predominance of one language over the other in the various countries. They explain their choice of the name North Africa over the current preference for “the Maghrib,” by their desire to include French writers born in the Maghrib, commonly known as pieds-noirs.
The inclusion of writers such as Emmanuel Robes and Jules Roy, however, came at the expense of native Maghribi writers who were eliminated “for want of space” (161). Such a step is not without being controversial. Excluding writers such as Driss Chraïbi, Abdel Wahhab Meddeb, and Rachid Boudjedra, to name only a few, creates an imbalance in a comprehensive study of modern and contemporary Maghribi literature. Other writers, such as Assia Djebar, figure prominently in the anthology by the number of selections from her work.While most texts are translated into English from the original language, some, such as Wattar’s The Gangway to [End Page 214] the Elevatorand Mohammed Choukri’s Speaking of Flies Is Forbidden,were done from a French translation. Moreover, the authors of the anthology failed to indicate the title of the larger collection to which a short story or a poem belonged, a procedure that hinders the efforts of researchers interested in furthering their study of Maghribi literature.
The writers surveyed in the introduction provide, however, a fairly clear idea of the evolution of this literature as well as its significant contribution to our understanding of the Maghribi society and culture.
Aïda A. Bamia is a professor in the Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Florida (Gainesville).