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  • Liberating Shahrazad: Feminism, Postcolonialism, and Islam
  • Anne Donadey
Liberating Shahrazad: Feminism, Postcolonialism, and Islam By Suzanne Gauch. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2007. xx + 175 pp. ISBN 0-8166-4883-2 paper.

Suzanne Gauch takes the figure of Shahrazad, the storyteller from The Thousand and One Nights, as her point of departure for an exploration of Maghrebian fiction and film that either take up Shahrazad explicitly or exhibit related characteristics. Her corpus logically revolves around works by Fatima Mernissi, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Assia Djebar, and Leïla Sebbar, and perhaps more unexpectedly Moufida Tlatli, who has never explicitly focused on The Thousand and One Nights (although she has been rumored for several years to be working on a film version of Shahrazad’s story). The chapters cover various themes: actual Shahrazad figures, intertextuality with The Thousand and One Nights, the centrality of storytelling, and Shahrazad as a metaphor for any Maghrebian woman who survives, resists, and partially overcomes the overdeterminations of her political and social situation.

Chapter 1 on Tlatli’s feature film The Silences of the Palace reads the film as a family melodrama and the protagonist Alia as a failed Shahrazad. In contrast, chapter 2 on feminist sociologist Fatima Mernissi’s autobiographical novel Dreams of Trespass positions the narrator as a contemporary Shahrazad and consummate storyteller. Chapter 3 focuses on the centrality and multiplicity of storyteller figures in Ben Jelloun’s acclaimed novel The Sand Child. Gauch’s treatment of Djebar’s rewriting of the relationship between Shahrazad and her sister Dinarzad in chapter 4 does not bring out any particularly new insights on two books that have already been thoroughly mined by critics, Fantasia and A Sister to Scheherazade. Gauch’s discussion of Djebar’s Women of Algiers in Their Apartments appears somewhat unrelated to the overall theme of the book. The last chapter on Sebbar’s Shérazade trilogy nicely returns us back to chapter 1, as Gauch focuses on the filmic quality of Sebbar’s rendering of the Shahrazad motif.

This comparative study of avatars of Shahrazad in Maghrebian fiction and film of the 1980s and 1990s is particularly interesting in that it includes a study of an arabophone film from Tunisia as well as an anglophone text from Morocco and francophone literature from Algeria and France. The author appears equally at ease analyzing works in all three languages and is well versed in Arabic literary history as well as film analysis and theory. Each chapter’s argument is cogently articulated, well supported, and convincing. Although Gauch treats each author in a separate chapter, the book is organized into a coherent whole. This scholarly work will appeal to a wide-ranging audience in comparative literature, literary and film studies, women’s studies, and francophone studies. The only aspect of the book that makes it less practical for scholars relates to the decision of the University of Minnesota Press to only include works cited in notes rather than in a bibliography, which makes searching for references more time consuming and inconvenient. [End Page 182]

Anne Donadey
San Diego State University
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