- Memory, Empire and Postcolonialism: Legacies of French Colonialism
Edited by Alec G. Hargreaves, Memory, Empire, and Postcolonialism: Legacies of French Colonialism seeks to analyze and unravel the complex relationship that exists between past and present French cultural memory, identity, and national politics in the postcolonial [End Page 158] era of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In the theoretical introduction, Hargreaves reminds us that prior to the Second World War, the French empire was second in size and strength only to that of Great Britain. Divided into three thematic sections, Hargreaves brings together the expertise and insight of fourteen diverse scholars to explore the intricate relationship between colonialism and the formation of a society's collective historical memory.
One of volume's key strengths lies in the wide geographic and historical scope addressed by the various chapters and contributors. Rather than focusing on one particular colonized region of the globe or one historical period, this work includes discussions of the former French Indochina, Africa, the Caribbean, North America, and immigration in France in order to represent the aggregate of the French colonial legacy as it influences present-day cultural forms and representations. Anchored within the framework and ethos of Pierre Nora's ground breaking, multi-volume work, Les Lieux de mémoire, each chapter discusses the politics of French collective memory and national amnesia.
The four chapters of Part I, North America and the Caribbean, examine the memory of slavery, the Haitian Revolution, the collective memory of the Acadians, and the theme of globalization. Paintings, statues, and sculptures in Martinique and Guadeloupe represent important realms of memory that portray slaves as strong survivors who ultimately achieved their own liberation from the chains of the past. Haiti's slave revolt, led by Toussaint l'Ouverture, is perhaps the most powerful example of the reversal of the iconic victim imagery that is often found in western representations. Part II, Africa and Asia, focuses on the postcolonial nostalgia evoked by cinematic and literary representations of the former colonies in Asia and Africa. At the same time, the atrocities and human rights violations such as the wide-spread use of torture during the Algerian War have been systematically forgotten or pushed to the periphery of France's collective memory.
The three chapters of the final segment, Postcolonial Migration, explore the pluralism, multiculturalism, and French identity in the twenty first century with particular emphasis on the movement of first-generation immigrants from Northern Africa to the urban and industrialized regions of France in the years following the end of the Second World War. The emergence of a second generation, often referred to as les Beurs, resulted in a plethora of literary works, films, and other art forms in which the French-born children of North African descent reinforce their unique identity while announcing the establishment of a third social space with the borders of the Hexagon. Their presence in France, coupled with the intense desire to integrate into mainstream society, serve as painful reminders of the trauma of the Algerian War and the disintegration of the French colonial empire.
I highly recommend this book to scholars and students whose research focuses on the French colonization, postcolonial France, immigration, and the Algerian War. In addition, this volume will be equally beneficial to individuals studying slavery, the use of torture, and the numerous human rights violations that are the direct result of colonial empires. [End Page 159]