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Reviewed by:
  • Postcolonial Paris: Fictions of Intimacy in the City of Light by Laila Amine
  • Kathryn Kleppinger
Postcolonial Paris: Fictions of Intimacy in the City of Light. By Laila Amine. (Africa and the Diaspora.) Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2018. xi + 241 pp., ill.

In this book, Laila Amine takes a new approach to the well-trodden ground of artistic representations of Paris. By studying a corpus of fiction and visual arts that establish the North African presence in Paris, Amine seeks to ‘generate a new cultural cartography that challenges several myths associated with the capital, including the myth of color-blind equality, the myth of the banlieues as the “badlands of the Republic”, and the myth of the city as a site of free speech’ (p. 6). Grounding her work in theories of intimacy, Amine argues that this concept — through living together and connection through proximity — allows for a nuanced discussion of assimilation versus cultural difference and universalism versus particularism. In chapters that span from 1947 to the present day, Amine considers novels and graffiti that reveal how ‘the city’s many landscapes function as a space where racialization belies modernity’s narrative progress in postwar France and today’s Europe’ (p. 7). In Chapter 1, Amine studies Driss Chräıbi’s modernist tale of Maghrebi migrants in Paris, Les Boucs, to show how the author ‘debunks the myth of an imperial harmonious family’ (p. 38); using the concept of the family romance, Amine demonstrates how the various characters and perspectives on life in Paris reveal the hidden underside of discourses of race and gender in the colonial context. Chapter 2 covers a specific time period, 1957–63, and looks at fiction by African American writers including Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and William Gardner Smith, to show how these authors ‘struggled to reconcile the coexistence of a color-blind and a colonial Paris’ (p. 65; original emphasis). Moving on to the 1980s, Chapter 3 conducts a close reading of Mehdi Charef ’s classic banlieue novel, Le Thé au harem d’Archi Ahmed, to demonstrate how the author uses the metaphor of the harem to ‘disrupt portrayals of the Paris periphery as exotic’ (p. 92). Finally, Chapters 4 and 5 move to the contemporary era, looking first at queer intimacies (and the portrayal of suffering in the banlieues coupled with salvation in the city centre), and then at the visual questioning of Paris’s history through graffiti recalling traumatic events such as the massacre of 17 October 1961. A brief coda, indicatively titled ‘Everyday Islamophobia’, reflects on the recent waves of terrorist attacks in France. While somewhat loosely tied to the previous material through the lens of intimacy and marginalization, this sociological chapter feels rather separated from the artistic analysis of the rest of the book. Overall, Amine’s book does, however, present a compelling reading of several classic works of French and francophone literature, and deepens readers’ understanding of the social dynamics shaping lived experiences in Paris today. It is perhaps a sign of a successful work that I found myself wishing for a wider scope: Alain Mabanckou’s Paris, for example, does not fit in the corpus defined here, but would contribute additional perspectives on how postcolonial populations live in Paris today. This is perhaps the primary strength of the work, in that it can inspire many new avenues of study. [End Page 506]

Kathryn Kleppinger
The George Washington University
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
p. 506
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-21
Open Access
No
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