- La littérature de jeunesse migrante: récits d’immigration de l’Algérie à la France by Anne Schneider
With this monograph, the French scholar and vice director of the Charles Perrault Institute, Anne Schneider, presents a seminal work on a neglected theme. The ambivalence of the title is fully intended: “Migrant” can qualify either “children’s literature” or only “children.” Who or what is actually migrating? Are only the (predominantly young) protagonists “migrating” in these stories? Does Schneider focus exclusively on the literary treatment of the experiences and consequences of flight, exile, immigration and emigration between Algeria (and other Maghreb states) and France? Or does she also explore other types of transgressions, imaginary or literary ones?
Do the analyzed narratives cross over the blurred boundaries of childhood, youth, and adulthood? Do the literary texts entice readers to rethink the at times arbitrary delimitations between genres, between the so called “national literatures” and “intercultural literature,” or between literature for children, adolescents or adults? Does the potential “literary migration” of texts lead to a new evaluation or new use of these texts and, if so, what are the consequences in society, the publishing landscape or in school?
These are some of the questions guiding the study, which is based on a corpus of 175 Francophone works. 116 of these cover a wide spectrum of genres from the realm of children’s and young adult literature, 59 are all-age or adult books. Schneider includes works by Leila Sebbar, Azouz Begag, Farid Boudjellal, Brigitte Smadja, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Mouloud Mammeri as well as “classics” of adult literature whose texts “migrated” to the young adult sector, such as novels by Mouloud Feraoun and Mohammed Dib. Alongside the literature of Maghreb authors, the voices of authors with a “Pied-noir” (people of French and other European ancestry who lived as privileged settlers in French North Africa) [End Page 94] or “Harki” (descendants of Muslim French loyalists and of soldiers fighting in the French army during the Algerian War of Independence) background are also included.
Schneider distinguishes four large thematic categories: travel literature, literature on topical themes, the Algerian War of Independence and Emigration/Immigration. Well aware of the fact that there is overlap due to the complex and multifaceted nature of the books, she analyses and compares their themes, discourses, and narrative strategies as well as their ideological, sociological, and historical implications. One of the recurring questions is how these books stage childhood and adulthood with their idiosyncratic twists, turns, and ambivalences.
The first and third sections are particularly noteworthy. In the first one, Schneider gives a succinct and highly perceptive overview of literary representations of flight, exile, war, and the loss of a home(land), and—drawing on psychological research on resilience—pays particular attention to the transformations and positive appropriation of these experiences. Regretfully, the predominance of Harki and Pied-noir authors in the chapter on the Algerian War somewhat skews the picture. While it may be important to give voice to marginalized groups, a complex and differentiated approach to this topic, which remains a taboo in France and Algeria to this day, has to include the perspective of Algerian or Maghreb authors on this traumatic event, which continues to cast a large shadow. It is also not clear why Schneider analyses texts for children by former French development workers and soldiers in this section.
The third section focuses on educational activities based on texts of “Migrant youth literature” in primary and high schools. It offers concrete, well-structured suggestions for class activities, including lesson plans and model activity sheets. This material is sure to encourage teachers to use these literary texts in class despite curricular or temporal constraints.
With her study, Schneider has laid the ground for a critical discussion of the topic “Intercultural literatures of France” and has provided thought-provoking answers to the question of how the political, cultural, and social...