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  • L’ambivalence de la sacralisation de l’enfance dans l’écriture de Gisèle Pineau, Malika Mokeddem, Ken Bugul by Djoher Sadoun
  • Amber P. Sweat
Sadoun, Djoher. L’ambivalence de la sacralisation de l’enfance dans l’écriture de Gisèle Pineau, Malika Mokeddem, Ken Bugul. L’Harmattan, 2021. ISBN 978-2-343-22820-4. Pp. 326.

Sadoun illustrates how “l’écriture d’enfance” requires a comprehensive understanding of childhood, not as a fixed set of ages or characteristics, but as a dynamic life stage that enriches French language and literature, figurations of the nation, and the amalgam of identities that construct the Francophonie. It is fitting that the authors Sadoun centralizes—Mokeddem, Pineau, and Bugul—all come of age during the French colonial period in Algeria, Guadeloupe, and Senegal respectively, with their schoolyard narratives helping craft the literature of a generation “née sous la domination française” (9). Through their works, this innovative study elucidates textual childhood as one that is not only “considérée comme un passage obligé dans l’interpellation de l’histoire” (13), but as something more: a complex identity wherein the child becomes ambivalent by being both sacralized as a cherished textual being and desacralized through novel moments depicting their abuse and submission. Sadoun first explores sacralization through feminine Francophone writing, rightly examining the tether between childhood and women’s conditions (a critical theme throughout the book), as well as how gender influences childhood via the boyhood/girlhood split. In texts where the exploitation of women paints a troubling sociopolitical landscape, it is the resurrection and rehabilitation of childhood memory—alongside the child figure— that demonstrate “la nécessité de l’enfance pour se sortir de la haine et de la violence” (56). Sadoun then borrows from sociology and anthropology to analyze childhood’s sacredness (in its multiple definitions) within inter- and intra personal frameworks. While children’s sacredness necessitates social construction, childhood is the life stage wherein sacralization ultimately becomes an act of enlightening self-fulfillment. The second part of the text, where Sadoun turns toward desacralization, demonstrates how childhood is perilous. From recounting moments where children become sacrificial victims via incest, infanticide, and kidnapping, to a meditation on the child as a silent and restrained object, Sadoun calls us to question childhood’s universal sacredness. Through both psychoanalytic and sociological ties to literature, the analysis teases out the ways in which the very society which exalts the child also catches them in its dreadful practices, even (or especially) in expectedly protective groups such as the family. Sadoun’s study of the child as a “victime sacrifiée au nom de la souveraineté sociale et religieuse” (259) challenges stereotypes of childhood as a monolithic and ever-protected state. Instead, this ambivalence paints children with complexity, shedding light on them as subjects who are as involved and multidimensional as the adult figures with whom they share humanity. While the text comes to a rather in conclusive end, Sadoun’s efforts culminate in an eloquent and legible text for French literary [End Page 269] scholars and childhood studies enthusiasts alike, illuminating childhood as both an intricate life stage and a critical entry point for understanding Francophone literature’s place within and against the backdrop of history. [End Page 270]

Amber P. Sweat
University of California, Berkeley