Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 194-195
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Two Major Francophone Women Writers, Assia Djébar and Leïla Sebbar: A Thematic Study of Their Works
Two Major Francophone Women Writers, Assia Djébar and Leïla Sebbar: A Thematic Study of Their Works, by Rafika Merini. New York: Lang, 1999. 159 pp. ISBN 0-8204-2635-0.
Rafika Merini's study, her 1992 dissertation with an additional chapter, uses a socioliterary approach to explore how Assia Djebar and Leïla Sebbar, two francophone women writers between Algeria and France, [End Page 194] subvert the culture of voyeurism in their works and create characters who "originate new modes of being Maghrebian women" (6). Merini's most original contribution resides in her feminist rewriting of the popular Arab concept of the "evil eye," from the nefarious power of envy to the gaze of the voyeur. Throughout the book, she beautifully traces how clear-sighted female characters ward off the evil eye of voyeurism through various clever tactics, "turn[ing] the tables on the voyeur and co-opt[ing] his voyeurism" (119), thus engaging in "reverse voyeurism" (2). Chapters 1 and 4 are particularly notable, because they highlight works by Sebbar that have received the least critical attention (Parle mon fils, parle à ta mère, Le pédophile et la maman, and Le fou de Shérazade). In chapter 5 on Djebar's most accomplished novel, L'amour, la fantasia, Merini reads Djebar's focus on the relationships between colonizer and colonized as an analogy for the war between the sexes (100), an interpretation that, in my opinion, reduces Djebar's deep commitment to fictional rewritings of history. Rather than have colonial wars stand in for sex wars, Djebar's entire oeuvre (with the exception of her first novel) evinces a multiple analysis of the intricate interconnections between the two.
The book would have benefited from editorial supervision. The style and syntax are heavily French, rendering the reading somewhat laborious. Several paragraphs are repeated in different chapters (pp. 2 and 21, 5 and 21, 5 and 90-91, 39 and 76), and there are mistakes in the book's cross- references (2, 40, 127). Merini also mentions "recent" texts and events (which are from the early 1990s), and refers to Ombre sultane (1987) as "Djebar's latest book" (127). With a few notable exceptions, the bibliography mostly stops in 1993. As such, it does not reflect the explosion of critical attention recently brought to the works of both writers, but especially Djebar.
Finally, sociological approaches to literature tend to have more currency in France and in the Maghreb than they do in the United States. Although the focus on the culture of voyeurism is an excellent and original angle of approach to the texts of Djebar and Sebbar, Merini's analysis at times evinces a mimetic conception of literature that is at odds with Djebar's and Sebbar's explicit goals of creating alternative visions, new worlds, through literature (11, 115). In spite of some weaknesses, Two Major Francophone Women Writers, the first English -language, book-length analysis of the works of these two writers, is an important study that will be of interest to the growing number of scholars concerned with Djebar's and Sebbar's literary production.
Anne Donadey is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Women's Studies at the University of Iowa (Iowa City).