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Native Tongue, Stranger Talk

The Arabic and French Literary Landscapes of Lebanon

by Michelle Hartman

Publication Year: 2014

Can a reality lived in Arabic be expressed in French? Can a French-language literary work speak Arabic? In Native Tongue, Stranger Talk Hartman shows how Lebanese women authors use spoken Arabic to disrupt literary French, with sometimes surprising results. Challenging the common claim that these writers express a Francophile or “colonized” consciousness, this book demonstrates how Lebanese women writers actively question the political and cultural meaning of writing in French in Lebanon. Hartman argues that their innovative language inscribes messages about society into their novels by disrupting class-status hierarchies, narrow ethno-religious identities, and rigid gender roles. Because the languages of these texts reflect the crucial issues of their times, Native Tongue, Stranger Talk guides the reader through three key periods of Lebanese history: the French Mandate and Early Independence, the Civil War, and the postwar period. Three novels are discussed in each time period, exposing the contours of how the authors “write Arabic in French” to invent new literary languages.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, About the Author

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. x-xv

...linguistic layering—she speaks on the level of constructing sentences. But Tuéni’s claim to write Arabic in French also acknowledges that French is far from a neutral language in the Lebanese context. The act of writing one language in another, no matter how...

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pp. xv-xx

...gratefully acknowledge Jo Ann Levesque of McGill University’s research office for her help in navigating all of these. Thanks to everyone at Syracuse University Press who worked hard to make this book fi nally appear. Mary Selden...

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pp. 1-34

...Educated in French-language mission schools in Lebanon, Etel Adnan laments that she cannot have “direct communication” with her Arabic-speaking audience as a “stranger and a native to the . . . same mother tongue” (17). Like so many other...

Part One. Gendered Interderence

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1. Gendered Interference

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pp. 37-56

...immediately announce themselves as tales of feminist emancipation. The three literary works discussed in part 1 are somewhat pessimistic; they subtly underline the plight of women in patriarchal societies with rigid customs and conventions...

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2. Jamil and Salma

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pp. 57-81

...inhabitants to a French-reading audience. The work paints an expansive tableau of this setting, weaving together romantic-emotional and sociopolitical novelistic strands into a story about ill-fated...

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3. "May You Bury Me"

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pp. 82-104

...ethnographic portrayal of the lives of the villagers, this time set in the Mount Lebanon town of Rachmaya, but in an earlier period, just after the time of the...

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4. Language and Liberation in a Woman's Novel of the 1950's

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pp. 105-126

...fever-cum- broken heart like Salma, or being murdered by her brother for her sexual transgression like Anissa, Chedid’s Samya takes matters into her own hands and murders her oppressive husband rather than continuing to suffer in silence. She does not die...

Part Two. Arabic as Feminst Punctuation

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5. Arabic as Feminist Punctuation in the Novel of the Lebanese Civil War

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pp. 129-149

...language in the texts draws on multiple genres, including ethnographies, to allow the novels to create their own novelistic discourses. The three novels discussed in part 2 break from these subtler strategies and transparent techniques...

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6. Like Soap Bubbles on Our Tongue

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pp. 150-172

...the family setting is nowhere better expressed than through the character of the father in Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s Le fils empaillé [The son stuffed with straw] (1980). This domineering and abusive man is shown to be a cruel...

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7. Lebanon Is Tomorrow's Sun

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pp. 173-196

...pessimistic. Firmly situated in Beirut of the 1980s, largely among Lebanese university students and professors, this novel treats issues from militarism and factionalism, to drug addiction and patriarchal oppression, to the sectarian violence that is tearing...

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8. Can a French Novel Speak Arabic

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pp. 197-222

...to use his “fi rst language” (langue d’origine) but also enjoys many of the advantages that being a French speaker gives him. A thoughtful novel that probes the psyche of its narrator, a (male) Lebanese priest of an upper-class background during the...

Part Three. Writing as Translation

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9. Writing as Translation

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pp. 225-241

...language, the Arabic language, and/or the relationships between them; postwar fiction written in French presents an increasingly self-conscious depiction of languages. Novels use diverse strategies to mark languages as different and to incorporate...

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10. A Francophone Druze Novel?

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pp. 242-265

...the somewhat dramatic claim on its back cover that it is the “first Francophone Druze novel” (“premier roman francophone Druze”), describing itself explicitly as a “novel that is a chronicle of the Ben Maarouf” (“Chronique...

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11. The Tightening Corset of French

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pp. 266-286

...the more expected patterns and constraints of the genre of the novel as conventionally defined. The works discussed thus far all fit into a recognizable category or subgenre of the novel: the ethnographic exposé of “local customs and traditions...

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12. The Arabic Language Leaked into It

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pp. 287-310

...in her novel softens its cynical mockery of Lebanon’s elite upper echelons somewhat, allowing some affection for this community to peep through while at...

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pp. 311-320

...consciousness and call both the narrative and authorial voices into question. The garlic dish without the garlic, like so many other metaphors that Eddé invokes in her works, demonstrates...


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pp. 321-344


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pp. 345-358

Back Covers

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E-ISBN-13: 9780815652694
E-ISBN-10: 0815652690
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815633563
Print-ISBN-10: 0815633564

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2014