Translator Lydia Beyoud Recommends more North-African Emigre Writers

By Lydia Beyoud

As a supplement to her striking translation of Fouad Laroui’s short story “My Father’s Antenna,” we’ve asked translator Lydia Beyoud to give us her recommendations for North-African writers living abroad.—Editors

As a short list of contemporary North African authors living abroad, this list must necessarily exclude the many talented writers who remain in their own countries, those of North African descent but born beyond that continent’s borders, or who have passed on. It is a subjective list and intended to offer readers a starting point to delve into the literature of a group with a shared experience of living between cultures.

Tahar Ben Jelloun, the doyen of Moroccan francophone literature and perhaps the Moroccan writer most familiar to English-language readers. Though best known for his novel The Sand Child, he continues to be widely published in France and translated internationally. However, many more of his works have yet to be translated into English. His collection of short stories Amours sorcières reveals much about love and relationships in a country held between traditional beliefs and modern rationalism.

Yasmina Khadra is the pen name of a former career Algerian army officer, Mohammed Moulessehoul, now in exile in France. The revelation of his true identity caused some shock at the time for those who had assumed him to be a woman. His novels, including a crime series, have garnered critical acclaim and address the dark side of humanity, including the brutalities of the Algerian civil war, the ongoing violence and religious fundamentalism still plaguing the country (with which he has firsthand experience), and the particular legacy of French colonialism in Algeria.

Abdellatif Laabi, playwright, novelist and poet, was censored, jailed by the Moroccan regime and later exiled to France. He remains little-known beyond those borders but has produced a lengthy corpus over the course of his lifetime and is a reference in Moroccan literary circles.

Amara Lakhous is an Algerian writer living in Italy. His hilarious and highly original novel of immigration and identity, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, first written in Italian and available in English translation, was awarded Italy’s Flaiano prize and was adapted for the stage.

Laila Lalami is the only Moroccan author to write directly in English, having published to date a collection of short stories dealing with clandestine immigration to Europe and a novel. She lives and teaches in the United States.

Fouad Laroui, in addition to his numerous novels and nonfiction works in French, is also a poet in Dutch. Dividing his time between Morocco and Europe, his humor and singular worldview set him apart as a talented and prominent literary figure shared by both cultures. He was shortlisted for the 2010 Prix Goncourt literary award.

Abdelwahab Meddeb is a Tunisian author, translator and poet living in France, best known in English for his nonfiction work criticizing religious fundamentalism. Like many authors from the Maghreb, he has a foot firmly planted in both his Arabic and Western heritages and draws deeply upon both in his writing. The first English translation of one of his novels, Talismano, is slated for 2011.

Abdelhak Serhane is a critical and politically-conscious Moroccan author and poet best known for his denunciation of the authoritarian regime of Morocco’s former king Hassan II. He lives and teaches primarily in Canada and the United States and his literary work is relatively unknown outside France and Morocco.

Abdellah Taia is a young writer living in France and is notable for being the first openly gay Moroccan novelist. His provocative, delicate prose shatters social taboos and explores the fears and uncertainties of his homosexuality within the strictures of Moroccan society. Like Laroui, Taia was also nominated for the 2010 Prix Goncourt literary prize. His novel Salvation Army was published in English translation in 2009.


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