- The Transcontinental Maghreb: Francophone Literature across the Mediterranean by Edwidge Tamalet Talbayev
Like Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, or France, the Maghreb is situated on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea; however, for reasons both historical and ideological, it is not often discussed as a “Mediterranean” region. In her rich and complex book, Edwidge Tamalet Talbayev seeks to open Maghrebi literary studies to broader relational possibilities by “marking the Maghreb with the seal of the sea” (6), that is, by situating it within the geographical and historical context of the Mediterranean. Talbayev’s objective is to “restore the liminal space of the Mediterranean” to Maghrebi studies, which has in her estimation been obscured by “an embedded network of polarized reading grids” that can only see binary relationships such as North/South, Christianity/Islam, Europe/Africa, metropole/colony, and French/Arabic (2). Invoking the Mediterranean as “a principle of [both] dispersion and connectivity,” Talbayev presents the Maghreb as “a sedimented site open onto the world” (19).
The author lays a sophisticated theoretical groundwork for her Mediterranean Maghreb paradigm in the book’s introduction. Talbayev’s theoretical approach adds nuance to the familiar postcolonial concepts of nomadism and national allegory by putting them in dialogue with recent scholarship in Mediterranean studies. She teases out the Mediterranean imaginary of Maghrebi writing through a significant critical engagement with Abdelkébir Khatibi’s notion of “Maghreb pluriel,” and she also makes suggestive nods to Glissantian relation and the contrapuntalism of Edward Said (though she does not engage with the latter in detail). She argues convincingly that the “Mediterranean trope” in Maghrebi literatures is best understood not as a “colonial inspired utopia [. . .] lacking political valence,” but rather as a form of “politicized relationality” (28). Talbayev uses the Mediterranean as a “heuristic tool” capable of challenging “dominant nationalistic readings of Maghrebi identities” while avoiding postcolonialism’s depoliticizing tendency toward “pure deterritorialization” (28).
The book is divided into four chapters. In Chapter 1, “Hybridizing the Myth, Allegorizing Algeria,” Talbayev chooses Kateb Yacine’s novel Nedjma (1956) as the foundational text for the transnational Mediterranean Maghreb she constructs over the course of the book. This is expressly a challenge to the authoritarian nationalism dominant in postcolonial Algeria, mythologized in Sheikh Abdelhamid Ben Badis’ declaration “Islam is my religion, Arabic is my language, and Algeria is my country” (37–38). Against this unary official Algerian identity, Talbayev reads Nedjma as an allegory of an “open-ended” Algerian identity, a “receptacle for all identifications aligned in the fight against colonialism” (64). Of particular note, here is her discussion of Kateb’s little-known writings on the island of Djerba, home to the Lotus-Eaters in Homer’s Odyssey and the adopted home of a significant Jewish community for over two thousand years. Talbayev writes compellingly of Kateb’s Djerba as the author’s vision of a pluralist [End Page 607] Algeria that could have been (and could still be), with “historical hybridity and estrangement as the two pillars” of its nonessentialist identity (78).
Chapter 2, “Andalusia as Trauma,” explores Al-Andalus as “nostalgic trope,” signifying an imaginary Maghreb that would fully embrace its religious, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. The chapter begins with an overview of the historio-graphical debate surrounding the Muslim kingdom of al-Andalus. She then considers three different iterations of this imagined Andalusia: Khatibi’s essay on Andalusia and Morocco; Algerian Nabile Farès’s fiction; and the writings of Tunisian Jewish writer Collette Fellous. While acknowledging a tendency toward “depoliticized universalism” in utopic invocations of Al-Andalus, Talbayev finds political purchase in how these longings for convivencia (or cohabitation) reveal “the incommensurability of minority experiences to national narratives” (116).
Chapter 3, “Traumatic Allegories,” is a reflection upon nomadism in Algerian writer Malika Mokkedem’s novel N’Zid (2001). A narrative of Algeria’s “Black Decade” of civil war, N’Zid recounts the trans-Mediterranean journey of a woman of mixed Irish, French, and Algerian descent as she reconstructs her identity after an attack by the Armed Islamic Group...