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Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 222-223

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Book Review

Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb

Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb, by Jarrod Hayes. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000. xiii+307 pp. ISBN 0-226-32106-1.

Building on the work of such scholars as Frantz Fanon, Homi Bhabha and Edward Said, Jarrod Hayes provides a fascinating look at the interplay of sexual and national identity in francophone North African literature. His study covers a broad range of authors including Tahar Djaout, Mohammed Dib, Kateb Yacine, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Assia Djebar, Leïla Sebbar, and Albert Memmi. Hayes's work is primarily a study of the presence of "non-normative" sexualities in Maghrebian literature written in French and the use of these taboo identities to challenge the dominant sexual identities, heterosexual and male, in their claim to hegemony. He demonstrates that through their foregrounding of marginal sexualities, these writers successfully achieve twin goals. They are able to support the establishment of a positive national identity against the suppression of this identity by the former colonizing power and against Orientalist views of the Maghreb, especially confronting Western notions of "Oriental sex." Simultaneously, these images of the nation challenge the dominant form of nationalism, countering a monolithic and exclusive definition of the nation with a multifaceted inclusive one. Hayes demonstrates that the effect of this overt presentation of marginal sexualities not only undermines the dominance of Maghrebian male heterosexuality--thereby "queering" the nation, but also Orientalizes the West by reflecting Orientalist images imposed upon the Maghreb onto the sexual identities and practices of the West itself.

I would be remiss if I did not point out an apparent irregularity in the selection of authors analyzed in Queer Nations. The novels of Leïla Sebbar, a "not quite/ not white" citizen of France who does not self-identify as Maghrebian, would seem more appropriate for a discussion of the national identity of France, and less so for the Maghreb. In all fairness, Hayes is well aware of this problem and introduces his chapter on Sebbar with a lengthy explanation to justify the inclusion of her work. One wishes for a similar explanation to justify the omission of Jean Sénac, the gay pied-noir [End Page 222] poet of Algeria, whose vision of Algerian national identity was nothing if not queer and whose position within the dominant vision of the Algerian nation was nothing if not marginal. One the whole, however, Queer Nations presents an engaging discussion of Maghrebian national and sexual identities. Hayes's work is very readable, and even those not specialized in the Maghreb should find Queer Nations both interesting and accessible. In the Maghreb (as elsewhere) nationalism has been a two-edged sword--an affirmative, unifying force used to liberate the peoples of the Maghreb from the colonizing French, and an oppressive, divisive force used in turn by the new national elite to exile to the margins those who are not male, heterosexual, Arab, and Muslim. Hayes's study, in its contrast of inclusive and exclusive visions of the nation, reminds the reader that the feminist and the queer can be nationalist as well, and without compromise.


Douglas L. Boudreau

Douglas L. Boudreau is Assistant Professor of French at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania.



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pp. 222-223
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