- Remembering French Algeria: Pieds-Noirs, Identity, and Exile by Amy L. Hubbell
If Pied-Noir narratives have not received a great deal of critical attention, it may be in part because those erstwhile French citizens of Algeria—settlers who were ‘repatriated’ from Algeria to France during and at the end of the Algerian War for Independence—occupy a distinctly strange and uncomfortable place in an already complex history. Pied-Noir experience was highly differentiated, and notwithstanding the protections afforded by their juridical status, some lived as colonizers (with all the material privilege that status entailed), while others subsisted in conditions barely distinguishable from those of indigenous Algerian Muslims and Jews. Moreover, the category itself is both misunderstood and problematic: Enrico Macias, an Algerian singer beloved by the Pied-Noir community and claimed as one of their own, is an indigenous Jew, and therefore not technically Pied-Noir (despite certain similarities in the two groups’ experiences of exile). Bicultural figures also present a conundrum: writers such as Leïla Sebbar and Nina Bouraoui, who both had Algerian fathers and French mothers, tell yet a different story of growing up in the colony. Given these complexities, weaving Pied-Noir narratives into the story of the Algerian War and its afterlives on both sides of the Mediterranean is no easy operation. Amy Hubbell’s book—one of the first, and by all accounts the first in English, to explore the writings of the Pied-Noir community—admirably avoids the rocky terrain of competitive memory and walks the reader through the problems of categorization. Hubbell opts for a limited scope, training her focus on tropes of repetition and return. Readings of works by Marie Cardinal, Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida, Sebbar, and Bouraoui, are supplemented by analyses of Albert Camus’s Mythe de Sisyphe, Merzak [End Page 625] Allouache’s film Bab-el-Oued (1994), Derrida’s documentary D’ailleurs, Derrida (1999), and Pied-Noir activist literature and film (including testimonial works by less-known writers such as Danielle Michel-Chich and Lucienne Martini). At several points, most notably in the Preface and in Chapter 5, Hubbell reveals that she has interviewed Pieds-Noirs and has attended their commemorative activities. She writes, by way of acknowledging the book’s lack of attention to contemporary Algeria: ‘I have received the same blindness to Algeria’s present that the Pieds-Noirs have transmitted to me alongside their memories. Like them, I primarily know the Algeria of French colonial memory’ (p. viii). This self-consciousness is admirable, but perhaps not sufficient to account for the risks of identification that come with ‘deep hanging out’. Moreover, contemporary Algeria is not the only critical blind spot in Hubbell’s book. We are left without a sense of how these texts participate in a broader memory project (that is, beyond their own potential as sites of memory for their authors), and we yearn for some acknowledgement of the Pieds-Noirs’ place in the French political landscape, for some inkling of how these narratives might help nuance our understanding of this community’s longstanding support of the Front national. Hubbell’s book, we hope, is the beginning of a longer conversation.