- Taos Amrouche, romancière
Artistic creation often derives from pain. As for Taos Amrouche, sister of the well-known author Jean Amrouche, her artistic expressions, both written and sung, swell from her exile and hybridity—sources of her feelings of separation, loss, and division—in her effort to find peace with herself and to connect with others. Yet Denise Brahimi, in her literary study of Taos Amrouche’s four novels, Jacinthe noire, Rue des tambourins, L’amant imaginaire, and Solitude ma mère, wishes to portray these writings as more than just expressions of pain. Rather she celebrates the author’s tenacity to “truth” and the elaboration of her self’s “totality.” As Taos herself says in L’amant imaginaire, her work that most reflects upon the act of writing, this act is necessarily autobiographical for her. She cannot separate her work from her life, the two being intimately connected in the process of artistic creation. Likewise, Brahimi identifies the fundamental purpose behind Taos’s writing as attempts at understanding herself while making herself understood to others. In spite of the divisions within herself and between her and others, often cause for failures in her personal relationships, Taos and her narrators and protagonists search for unity and understanding.
Among the many themes Brahimi identifies in Taos’s novels, exile and hybridity appear the most important in her earlier works. Her first novel, Jacinthe noire, addresses her exile, which is double, due to her family’s move from Kabylie to Tunis before her birth and then her immigration to France as a young woman. Her family’s Kabyle origin is key to her feeling of [End Page 224] otherness, whether it be in the Paris boarding school, as in Jacinthe noire, or in her childhood Tunis, central to Rue des tambourins. She, like her heroines, are caught between two cultures—the Catholic, canonical, highly rationalized, gray, and monotone France and the pagan, free-spirited, instinctive, colorful, and passionate homeland she imagines and idealizes. However, and this is the source of her pain, Kabylie, the homeland she so lovingly aspires to recreate in her surroundings, can no more be recreated than found as she envisions it. Following the French colonization of North Africa, her family left Kabylie for the more prosperous and Westernized Tunis, and from there she and her brothers left Tunis altogether to pursue their studies and livelihoods in metropolitan France. There is no going back for Taos or her novels’ protagonists. There is only the gnawing sense of division, resulting from the Conquest and the homeland’s abandonment.
Taos’s third novel, L’amant imaginaire, as Brahimi notes, puts the heroine’s past history and artistic creations into perspective. As she endeavors to achieve the impossible, “unity”—whether it be in the protective arms of the man who understands her fully while maintaining an erotic distance from her life and her writing—closing the gap between the disparate parts of her being becomes a seemingly more apparent vain enterprise. In the heroine’s expression of the “ransom” she is to pay in life, Brahimi recognizes a need to expiate an “original sin,” that of her family’s departure from the land of their origins as well as the painful loss of her virginity to a man who betrayed her. Love and unity, at once spiritual and physical, are prerequisites to her happiness. Yet when combined with her unflinching desire for total belonging and harmony, they necessarily butt up against a very different reality. In her loves, individual weaknesses, anxieties, and crises undermine the success of the collective project, which Brahimi sees as Taos’s self-given goal. (The same is true for her writing.) What these two final novels share is the heroine’s growing realization of the impossibility of her project(s). She cannot escape the divisions that have tormented her from the beginning, and she faults herself for being blind to them or too weak to face them. Ultimately she recognizes her totalizing desire for unity as what causes her real as well as...