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  • Writing after Postcolonialism: Francophone North African Literature in Transition by Jane Hiddleston
  • Jill Jarvis
Writing after Postcolonialism: Francophone North African Literature in Transition. By Jane Hiddleston. (New Horizons in Contemporary Writing.) London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. 263 pp.

Taking off from the compelling premise that practices of intellectual freedom and political dissent have been vital across North Africa since independence from colonial rule, this book sets out to 'assess the status of literature itself in this new context' (p. 37). The context in question is Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia from the 1980s up to the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings. Jane Hiddleston lays out the distinct postcolonial histories of these nation-states, arguing astutely that, while the openly contestatory tenor of anti-colonial literature has come to appear more modest and attenuated in the wake of political crises and disillusionment since the 1980s — after October 1988 in Algeria; Hassan II's long reign in Morocco referred to as the 'years of lead' (1961-99); and the injustices of Bourguiba's and Ben Ali's rule in Tunisia through the transformations of 2011 — literature nevertheless still serves as an important form for experimentation and critique across the region. A second introductory chapter outlines debates in anglophone scholarship on world literature and postcolonialism to demonstrate the ways in which French-language literature by North African writers does not fit these disciplinary frames, bringing in the Thousand and One Nights as an indispensable model of narrative resistance to tyranny and a central aesthetic intertext for Maghrebi writers. These opening chapters constitute a robust engagement with theories of postcoloniality, world literature, and the politics of literature, demonstrating how literature itself theorizes, and providing an overview that is especially suited for teaching undergraduate and graduate courses on Maghrebi francophone literatures. Subsequent chapters juxtapose studies of literary works by Tahar Ben Jelloun, Kamel Daoud, Tahar Djaout, Salim Bachi, Fawzi Mellah, Abdelkebir Khatibi, Leïla Sebbar, and Assia Djebar. Hiddleston tracks a 'certain strand of liberal questioning' (p. 260) running through the francophone corpus she has assembled. Each chapter coheres around a theoretical question ('Why Write?'; 'Literature and History'; 'Literature as Translation') to elucidate how prose narratives cultivate modes of thinking that run counter to habits of mind fostered by anti-democratic ideologies. Djaout, for example, generates 'opposition to the reductive stultification created by the twin forces of religious extremism and political authoritarianism' in 1990s Algeria (p. 238), while Sebbar performs a 'salutary dialogic, anti-hierarchical thinking' even as she stages 'the persistence of linguistic divisiveness' in the Algerian context (p. 200). Overall, cordoning off French-language texts as in some way exemplary of this mode of democratic questioning has the effect of reinforcing a narrative of intractable language war and identity crisis in North Africa; it also risks implicitly associating Arabic with intellectual stultification and violent authoritarianism. Hiddleston's point that 'works written in French offer a different perspective from that of Arabic writing' (p. 260) is not persuasive because works in Arabic either fall outside the scope of her enquiry or are not reckoned with as Arabic texts (Ahlam Mosteghanemi's Z¯kirat al-jasad; the Thousand and One Nights). Assessing the political status of literature in a context so heterogenous demands that we consider — or at least acknowledge — the ways that writers counter repression by drawing on the resources of all Maghrebi languages. [End Page 634]

Jill Jarvis
Yale University


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