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  • The Cambridge Introduction to Francophone Literature
  • Mildred Mortimer
The Cambridge Introduction to Francophone Literature. By Patrick Corcoran. Cambridge: CUP, 2007. ix + 295 pp. ISBN 978-0-521-84971-51-5 paper.

Beginning with the premise that francophone literature must be viewed as a branch of postcolonial literature not as an adjunct of French literature, Patrick Corcoran examines a corpus of francophone texts remarkable for its diversity. By excluding francophone European literature of Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, the critic emphasizes the importance of the decolonization process to francophone literature. Postcolonial criticism, as he notes, examines issues of identity by insisting on a nuanced approach that eschews binary opposition between the former colonizer and the formerly colonizer (the distinction between "them" and "us"), proposing instead a multilayered and fluid approach to literary texts that foregrounds cultural exchange, and emphasizes cultural, linguistic, and racial hybridity.

Corcoran organizes his study in terms of regions: the literature of the Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, the Middle East, Canada, and the Caribbean. Each chapter begins with an overview of the region that examines both its connection with and disengagement from France. As he notes, the process of disengagement involves innovative uses of the French language, "as writers have seized on opportunities to manhandle it, creolise it and make it a more fitting tool for their own purposes" (25). The second part of each chapter provides studies of selected writers of each region. The choice of authors and texts allows the critic to foreground important works as well as regional and or national specificity. Providing an informative introduction to the literature of French-speaking countries and regions, he renders an important service to students and readers who have had little or no exposure to francophone writers and their work. His critical introduction is cogent, well articulated, and accessible readers. The accompanying bibliography encourages further exploration of the field.

The reader who is well versed in francophone literature will find lacunae. Admitting that "some absences may shock" (25), Corcoran excludes "immigrant" authors because he only selects writers born outside of metropolitan France. Within a given geographical area, he does not always maintain a proper balance. Hence, the section on the Maghreb examines the work of five Algerian, one Tunisian, and two Moroccan writers. Corcoran emphasizes Algerian literature because of Algeria's [End Page 236] anti-colonial struggle (1954–1962), and civil war of the 1990s that pitted the government against Islamic fundamentalists. In his view, Algerian literature deserves this attention because it reveals the connection between the cultural dimension of power relations and the political dimension of cultural activity (38). Turning to the Sub-Saharan African section, I question why Mariama Bâ's So Long a Letter is never mentioned despite its wide diffusion and significance to African women's fiction. The Quebec and Caribbean chapters are far more detailed. In the Caribbean section, Corcoran draws upon his unpublished interview with Martinican writer, Patrick Chamoiseau.

In conclusion, this text reveals the richness and diversity of francophone literature today. It is a very competent introduction to a compelling subject, and a useful guide for introductory courses in francophone literature.

Mildred Mortimer
University of Colorado, Boulder


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