Between Europe and North Africa: Contemporary Francophone Jewish writers from the Maghreb

Patricia Llorens | University of Amsterdam | Between Europe and North Africa: Contemporary Francophone Jewish writers from the Maghreb | Ieme van der Poel | 2015-2019

This research project focuses on the writings of three Francophone Jewish writers from North Africa: Albert Memmi, Edmond El Maleh, and Jean Daniel. Born in the second decade of the twentieth century, all three experienced the trauma of permanent or temporary exile from their countries of origin around the time of decolonisation. The reason why their writings have hardly been the object of academic research so far is partly due to the fact that, as the result of the assimilation policy of the French colonizers, they considered themselves (and were considered) until recently as purely French. Moreover, in Jewish Studies the vanishing of the Sephardim and Jewish life from North Africa has for a long time been overshadowed by the history of the annihilation of a large part of the European Jews during the Holocaust.

Since the three Jewish writers here belong to the same generation and share the same social and historical background, I will contrast their works with the Algerian novels and stories of Albert Camus. This will allow me to get a clearer picture of the highly stratified and definitely non egalitarian French, colonial societies in North Africa, in which Arabs, Jews, and Europeans cohabited in relative peace.

By adopting a comparative perspective, this research project will not only make a substantial contribution to the emerging field of Francophone Jewish literature, but will also help to offer new insights into the Algerian writings of Camus, especially into his views on colonialism and decolonisation, which are still under debate. Finally, the ideas of these writers concerning the relationship between Europe and the Maghreb, and their representation of the plural society they experienced in their childhoods, will shape our views on how to strengthen the ties between the different minorities, Jews and Arabs, especially, who live in Europe today. By addressing questions of origins and belonging within a Maghrebian context, these writers will certainly appeal to Dutch pupils from Moroccan origin. In this respect, contemporary French literature can be made instrumental in readjusting certain stereotypical images with regard to religious and/or ethnic minorities as may be found across the Internet.