Emotional Exiles: Assia Djebar's La Femme sans sépulture and Malika Mokeddem's Des rêves et des assassins
- Romance Notes
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Romance Studies
- Volume 48, Number 3, 2008
- pp. 291-298
- Additional Information
EMOTIONAL EXILES: ASSIA DJEBAR’S LA FEMME SANS SÉPULTURE AND MALIKA MOKEDDEM’S DES RÊVES ET DES ASSASSINS ALLISON CONNOLLY THE great diversity of subjects treated in contemporary Francophone novels reflects many of the challenges faced by postcolonial societies. Multiple themes emerge in these literatures, ranging from gender issues to colonial and postcolonial discourse to reappropriation of land, culture, and language. Exile is another theme scholars have examined from numerous angles, attesting to postcolonial societies’ heritage of invasion and displacement. As one can well imagine, characters living in exile experience a myriad of difficulties, including culture shock, loneliness and, very often, difficulty or inability to communicate in the host society. In the essay that follows, I shall discuss emotional exiles experienced by women and brought on by death. I borrow the concept of “emotional exile” from Sylvie Bernier’s article “Ying Chen: s’exiler de soi.” In this article, Bernier analyzes the narrators in Chen’s novels as characters whose empty existences equate to an exile from the self and one’s own life and personal history. While exile is usually examined through a geographic lens, my analysis will show that whenever a character is cut off from family, friends, and her own past, her existence has the potential to become exilic. One can therefore “live in exile” in his or her geographic homeland. Under what circumstances might one experience emotional exile and how does that exile manifest? The violence and suddenness of an unexpected death can plunge a person into a traumatic and lonely period which can be characterized as emotional exile. One who experiences death, whether that of a loved one or, in the case of Assia Djebar’s spectral narrator, of one’s own self, is likely to yearn for the familiarity of 291 voices from the past, the comfort of familiar surroundings, and the sensation of belonging to a community. Many of the sentiments and emotions linked to mourning are thus parallel to those experienced by someone trying to make his or her life in a foreign place. Death is especially pertinent to contemporary Algerian authors, due to the culture of violence that has pervaded their society in the last decades. In novels from Francophone North Africa, and specifically those that seek to give voices to women, writers resuscitate feminine voices stifled by war and tense political situations. Farid Laroussi considers the status of feminine voices in his article “Eloge de l’absence dans La Femme sans sépulture d’Assia Djebar,” noting that the discourse gained by Algerian women during the war of liberation has since been “forgotten” or “concealed” (189). This hidden discourse emerges in Francophone Algerian literature through the polyphony of women’s voices that permeates the works of writers such as Assia Djebar and Malika Mokkedem: “Il s’avère que très souvent la femme maghrébine, en particulier algérienne, n’est pas éliminée, mais plutôt subordonnée à un terme métaphorique, tantôt libérateur tantôt stéréotype” (Laroussi 198). Works of fiction therefore reflect North African women’s uncertain and evolving status in both postcolonial and French societies. Valérie Orlando analyzes the works written by and about Algerian women living outside of Algeria, explaining that they are produced both because of and in spite of exile and deterritorialization: “Ils sont le produit d’une découverte de soi au sein d’un exil et d’une identité féminine qui ressurgissent et aussi le produit d’une histoire féminine qui n’a jamais été racontée” (Orlando 114). Exile, whether it is physical or emotional , therefore forces women to consider their existence and, in some cases, gives them the chance to express the realities of that existence through the written word. Two North African novels that exemplify the idea of “emotional exile” are La Femme sans sépulture by Assia Djebar and Des rêves et des assassins1 by Malika Mokeddem. Before even opening the cover of either book, the reader understands that both novels have immediate and clear associations with death. La Femme sans sépulture, or the woman without a sepulcher, conjures the image of a wandering phantom...