Autobiography and Independence: Selfhood and Creativity in North African Postcolonial Writing in French

By Mortimer, Mildred | African Studies Review, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Autobiography and Independence: Selfhood and Creativity in North African Postcolonial Writing in French


Mortimer, Mildred, African Studies Review


Debra Kelly. Autobiography and Independence: Selfhood and Creativity in North African Postcolonial Writing in French. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005. Distributed by the University of Chicago Press, v + 400 pp. Bibliography. Index. $85.00. Cloth.

Examining autobiographical writings of North African Francophone writers, Debra Kelly studies the ways in which these texts represent the individual and collective experience of French colonialism and its postcolonial legacy. Probing the "life-writing" projects of Mouloud Feraoun and Assia Djebar of Algeria, Abdelkébir Khatibi of Morocco, and Albert Memmi of Tunisia, she finds each writer adopting specific strategies to explore the complex issue of Maghrebian identity.

Beginning with Mouloud Feraoun, whose novel LeFiIs du pauvre charts the intellectual journey from Kabyle villager to French colonial schoolteacher, the critic draws attention to the ironic distance he establishes between the narrator and the protagonist. In close readings of Feraoun's journal and letters, she discovers that his personal writings refute the portrait of the "assimilated" Feraoun that emerges in the novel. Kelly continues to read one text with-or against-another in the following chapter, an analysis of Memmi's autobiographical texts. Juxtaposing La Statue de Sel, a linear autobiographical narrative, with Le Scorpion, a highly complex polyphonic narrative, she finds both texts engaged in the process of uncovering a personal and collective past and preserving it from erasure. Her analysis also reveals Memmi's preoccupation with the role of imagination in autobiographical narrative, a concern he shares with Khatibi.

Turning to Khatibi's La Mémoire Tatouée, she finds the Moroccan novelist bringing childhood memories and accounts of real events, dreams, and impressions together in a text which, like Memmi's Le Scorpion, is structurally and stylistically complex and emphasizes the genesis of a writer. …

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