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112 8 From the Maghreb to the American Mainstream Writers of North African Origin (Anouar Majid, Laila Lalami, Samia Serageldin) The Arab world is broken into two broad regions: the Middle East, also known as the Near East, West Asia, and the Mashreq, which often is a synecdoche for the entire Arab world (a part representing the whole); and North Africa, also known as the Maghreb, which includes the Arab world’s most populous country (Egypt), Africa’s largest (the Sudan), former French colonies (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco), and a former Italian colony (Libya). These nations are often discussed as if they are part of the Middle East, even though Morocco is only a few miles from Spain. Speaking of the Middle East in this way is obviously a geopolitical rather than a strictly geographical identification, but North Africa has its own unique cultures, histories, and linguistic styles that separate it from the Asian Arab countries, although both African and Asian Arabs consider themselves to be ethnic brethren. When it comes to Arab American literature, North Africa tends to be overlooked . Part of North Africa’s marginality has to do with simple demographics: there are simply not as many American writers of North African background as there are of Near Eastern background. The Libyan Khaled Mattawa is a decorated poet, critic, and translator, but no other Libyan writer in the United States is nearly as prominent (Hisham Matar, another noted Libyan writer, lives in the United Kingdom). There are not many Tunisian American writers (the critic Nouri Gana comes to mind). Most of the works published by Algerian writers in the United States—a considerable number—were translated into English From the Maghreb to the American Mainstream | 113 from French or Arabic. No Moroccan Americans have published novels in the United States besides Laila Lalami and Anouar Majid, both of whom I discuss in this chapter. Near Eastern writers, in contrast, are overwhelmingly represented, although it is difficult to say whether their representation is disproportional. The largest Arab American demographic is composed of Lebanese Americans, who also happen to be the group best represented in Arab American letters. The early days of Arab American literature were dominated by Lebanese Christians , but in recent years more diverse national and religious groups have been increasingly represented. Although writers of North African backgrounds still compose only a small portion of published Arab American writers, their contribution has been substantial and portends a much more diverse thematic and structural future for Arab American literature. However, writers from Persian Gulf nations—Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar—are very few, most likely because there is not a substantial gulf population of landed citizens in the United States. Most immigrants to the United States from the Arab world in general become skilled laborers or business owners, which also effects the productivity of potential writers. In the rest of this chapter, I focus on a cross-section of Arab American writers of North African background: Anouar Majid and Laila Lalami, from Morocco, both of whose work is rooted in a Moroccan landscape but differs in style and scope; and Samia Serageldin, from Egypt, whose novel The Cairo House offers an intimate portrayal of Egyptian life in the post–World War II twentieth century. Si Yussef Anouar Majid is a noted scholar of Islam, postcolonial theory, and literature. His first book, though, is a novel, Si Yussef, which was originally published in the early 1990s and reissued by Interlink in 2005. Although the novel takes place exclusively in Morocco and deals largely with Moroccan history and politics, it is written in English and employs themes that are relevant to readers of all backgrounds. Si Yussef is mostly a novel of men, developing from the point of view of its male characters, who dominate the action. The exception to this male presence is the character of Lucia, Si Yussef’s Spanish wife, who plays an important symbolic role in the story. The novel’s structure renders the majority of the story a 114 | M o d e r n A r a b A m e r i c a n F i c t i o n flashback, as the narrator, Lamin, recalls his conversations with Si Yussef, an almost mythical figure who exerts a strong influence on Lamin’s worldview and takes up the burden of narration, through Lamin’s memories, a few times throughout the novel. Because Lamin’s voice sometimes gives way to Si Yussef...


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