Mizrahi Jewish novelists and the End of Jewish Life in the Middle East: Echoes of Voices
Judith Roumani*

The Golden Age of Muslim Spain, the influence Sephardim held in Spanish Christian courts, the heartfelt patriotism of Italian Jews before Fascism and the Holocaust, the age-long rootedness of Jews in Middle Eastern countries before the Arab-Israeli conflict…we know the end of these stories now, and what awaited the Sephardim whose assumptions of symbiosis1 or convivencia2 were each time abruptly and violently shattered as they scattered into exile. The sixteenth century Hebrew narrative Emeq Habaka  [Vale of Tears]3 by Yosef Ha-Kohen, lamenting the sufferings of the Jews through the centuries, details one expulsion after another, down to his own days, and unfortunately not only catalogued history but also foreshadowed even more forced migrations, up to modern times. This paper views, through the lens of novelists, the historical expulsion from Spain as a prefiguring of the modern expulsion of Arab nationalism as it affected the Jews of North Africa (here, Tunisia) and the Middle East (specifically, Iraq and Egypt). Here I review novelistic reactions and approaches to history, rather than history itself, and see whether and how far modern Sephardic novelists themselves draw parallels with past events.
Didier Nebot, now of France but of  Algerian origin, brings us a novel, Le Chemin de l’exil [The Road to Exil], describing several generations of a Spanish Jewish family from Toledo, their sufferings in Spain due to persecution, forced conversion and the Inquisition, and the last surviving descendant’s flight to Algeria. This novel was published in 1992, the year when the Quincentennary of the expulsion from Spain was widely commemorated. At the same time, Nebot’s own family had probably experienced, a generation before, around 1962, another semi-forced migration from the land of his forebears.
Naim Kattan of Iraq in Adieu Babylone [Farewell Babylon] chronicles the breakdown of traditional Iraqi Jewish life in the oldest diaspora, the Babylonian center from which Spanish Jewry had drawn its spiritual sustenance. Iraq had won its independence in 1932, and a few years after the 1941 farhud (Iraqi pogrom), the Jews of Iraq scattered, mostly moving to Israel, Iran, or Britain. Others who had had a French education emigrated to Paris or, in Kattan’s case, Canada. Though it constituted one of the most ancient, largest and well integrated Jewish communities in the Middle East, some members even working for Iraqi independence, Iraqi Jews were still evicted from their ancestral home. Naim Kattan, in a poignant autobiographical narrative, captures this moment.
Similarly, Jewish intellectuals in Tunisia, such as Albert Memmi, worked for independence for their native country. Memmi’s novel, La Statue de sel [Pillar of Salt] (1953) captured the process of a Jewish intellectual’s discovery that there would be no room for him in an independent Muslim Tunisia. By 1956 Memmi himself had moved to France. The much younger Marco Koskas, who left Tunisia with the mass exodus in the early 1960s, shows us in Balace Bounel [Bounel’s Balace] an entire community folding its tents, or rather boarding up its houses, the pain of departure rose-tinted and blurred through his humorous lens.
Finally, in a poetic and Proustian personal memoir, Andre Aciman (Out of Egypt, 1994) evokes the original Exodus from Egypt, as his family reluctantly prepares for their own flight out of Egypt to Paris, under the pressures of Nasser’s Arab nationalism. This highly literary memoir evokes not only the personal memories of a fifteen-year-old, but also the imagined thoughts and motives of his grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, so that we have a sense of a whole tribe uprooted and in motion.
If “to depart is to die a little,” the characters in these fictions and memoirs, not to mention their authors, all left a piece of themselves behind in these involuntary departures. Forced out by history, they evoke other expulsions, those of their ancestors, in earlier centuries.
Another refuge for the Jews of Iberia after their expulsion had been the Italian principalities and states.4 Our medieval doctor (whose parents had left Spain in 1492 just before his birth) was born in Avignon and spent much of his life in the region of Genoa. As permission was alternately granted and rescinded for Jews to reside there, Ha-Kohen led a migratory life.
Naïm Kattan, of Iraq, also represents imaginatively a drastic and unlooked-for rupture, not on the scale of the destruction of one-fifth of Italian Jewry in the Holocaust, but searing in other ways. The history of Iraqi or Babylonian Jewry reaches far back beyond Spain itself: the Golden Age of Jewish literature in Spain could not have taken place without the connections through rabbinic responsae and the emigration of a key poet, Dunash ben Labrat, connecting Spain with the scholarly, literary, religious and philosophical sources of Jewish thought as the Caliphate of Baghdad gradually ceded supremacy to the Caliphate of Cordoba. Daniel Elazar identifies the roots of Sephardic culture in Babylon rather than in Iberia. A thousand years later, Sephardic cultures around the Mediterranean and the Middle East still recognized the inspiration of the Babylonian period. Thus it took a combination of a pro-German government during the war, a farhud or pogrom in 1941 in the interregnum before British administration, the rise of Arab nationalism and establishment of a fully independent Arab state, and the pull of Zionism and western countries, to begin dismantling this ancient, prestigious Jewish community. Even today, after half a century of Arab rule, and implacable hostility toward Israel, vestiges remain of Jewish life in Iraq, though the last Jews have left.5
Through his autobiographical novel, Adieu Babylone (1975) [Farewell, Babylon]6 Kattan captures the moment when Iraqi Jews became aware that they had no future in Iraq. His protagonist is a young student active in Jewish-Muslim intellectual groups in the late 1940s, after the farhud but before independence. Like many Iraqi Jewish intellectuals, he spoke Arabic and was active in Arabic literary circles.7 He is aware that his spoken Arabic identifies him as Jewish, and the main character and his Jewish friends even emphasize their Jewish accent. He tries to maintain friendships with Iraqi Arabs and brings his Arab friends home. But there is a feeling of movement in the air: his Jewish friends are planning to go to university overseas and perhaps stay there, while the Muslim friends are going overseas temporarily to study, in order to come back as the future cadres of their country. A Syrian consular official, a supposed friend and supporter, makes this clear: 

France wants to retain its influence in the Middle East. She has to train allies to defend her in the future. You’re a Jew. You’re going to study in France. You’ll be successful and you won’t come back. A Muslim, the son of a minister or a senior official, wouldn’t have that choice. He would have to come home. He would spend most of his time in Paris cafés or chasing girls, but when he came home he would have influence in his own milieu. Out of gratitude, he would use that influence to defend the interests of France . (p. 212)

The protagonist and his Arab friends nevertheless make sincere plans to meet up once they arrive in London or Paris.

The implication is that, much as the Jews regret it, the national destinies of the Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Jews are about to tear them apart. In fact, they were never to meet again, as the decades of Ba’athist ideology and the Arab-Israeli conflict would intervene.8 Surely the farhud had already delivered a brutal message to the Jews: that they were not welcome in the new Iraq. But no doubt the message was slow to be accepted given the Jewish community’s ancient rootedness in Iraq: there may have been incurable optimists who considered the farhud  the last gasp of the old dhimmi order giving way to a newer, better society, rather than a harbinger of the new one that would exclude Jews. The protagonist loves the Arabic language, spends a summer learning by heart the writings of the pre-Islamic Arab poets,  contributes to Iraqi Arabic journals and newspapers, and tells us several times that Jews knew Arabic better that the Iraqi Arabs themselves. Tears stream down his face as his bus pulls out of Baghdad on the road to Beirut and eventually Paris, and Iraq will always have a place in his heart. When as a high school student, his class visits the ruins of Babylon, he is uninterested in the history teacher’s presentation but deeply affected by his English teacher’s speech:

“Only the Jews can feel the upheaval of a living past under these piles of stones,” he told us, “Nothing ties the Arabs to Babylon. When they conquered it, we were already there. We are the true natives. We came here as captives, the slaves of Nebuchadnezzar. But we triumphed over defeat. On this ground we wrote the Talmud. The descendants of captives, the sons of slaves were great scholars, great philosophers. Are we worthy of our ancestors?” he exclaimed (p. 79).

The implication is that there should always be a Jewish presence in Iraq, in honor of the glorious achievements of Jewish scholarship there. A number of idealistic young Jews, including the protagonist, were thus determined to work, together with their Arab friends, for the future of the new independent state of Iraq. But the roles reserved for them seemed to be very few. They discover that the only school at the university that will allow Jews in is the faculty of law. The protagonist discusses his closest Jewish friend’s gradual change of heart, writing that “Despite Nessim’s declarations about our responsibility for building a new and independent Iraq, it was obvious that he only half believed it” (p.122). On the other hand “he did not dare believe in the reality of the foreign countries that were calling to him” (p. 123).  The narrator/protagonist speaks of the “wine of the West” (p. 124) and his own encounter with a charismatic French school examiner who suggests that he might apply for a scholarship. The liberty that women have in the West to talk freely with men is a recurring motif. The protagonist does apply for a scholarship from the French government to study in France and actually wins it. As his bus pulls out of Baghdad, bound for Beirut where he will take a ferryboat, barking dogs follow the bus, but cannot inspire fear. He has just told Nissim not to wait too long before he leaves too. The description of the harmless (previously threatening) dogs underlines perhaps the most basic of all the reasons why a Jew would voluntarily or involuntarily leave an Arab country: to leave behind the relationship of dhimmitude and all the emotions and behaviors it entailed: inferiority, dissembling, and above all fear. In a more recent book, Kattan sheds more light on the substance of his first novel, Adieu Babylone. He writes that “Il fallait que je décrive non pas tant ce que je quittais que ce que je portais en me déplaçant . . . Faisant le récit de mon enfance, je rendais compte des dernières années de la communauté juive de Bagdad. J’y expliquais comment mes ancêtres, prisonniers de Nabuchadnetsar, avaient résisté à leur manière à l’exil forcé, l’avaient vaincu en emportant le Livre . . . Dans l’essaie et le roman, j’ai peut-être suivi, inconsciemment et humblement, la voie tracé par mes ancêtres. Je me suis mis à la lecture du texte. » 9

Two Jewish novelists from Tunisia also deal with the slow but agonizing process of uprooting. La Statue de sel  [Pillar of Salt] (1953),10 Albert Memmi’s first novel, was received with acclaim as one of the first by a new generation of North African writers (as distinguished from French writers discussing North Africa). In several respects it was a revolutionary novel. First, as one of the earliest successful literary statements in French by an indigenous North African, it was a psychological trailblazer; second, it was a confessional novel, dealing with aspects of life which traditional circles would have preferred to be kept within the community; third, it showed the evolution of colonized society toward political independence. Poised on the threshold of a new era full of possibilities, how did Memmi’s novel portray the chance for survival or transformation of the old Jewish-Arab symbiosis in a new age of political independence? In this first novel, Memmi was developing his favored technique of positing an idea, then examining its consequences in a situation of genuine conflict. The idea was that a Tunisian Jew could join the nationalist movement and feel completely at home in it, accepted by the others as fully one of them. He puts the idea to a hypothetical test, and the results are not encouraging. He first describes his semi-autobiographical main character, Mordechai,11 participating in an incipient nationalist movement:

There were not many of us at these secret meetings, and we felt strongly even if we had no very definite ideology. But I always left this Arab house filled with warmth and a feeling of generosity . . . I smiled at the little street vendors and was amiable to the ticket collector in the streetcar; when two women began to argue, I sided with the Moslem one. But the vendors did not understand my smiles, the ticket collector hardly returned my politeness, and the Moslem women formed such a solid bloc in their opposition to the Jewess that I ended up feeling sorry for her as the victim.
. . . . Our success depended on our work and patience and on time . . .
After the pogrom, however, as soon as it was again possible to move around, Ben Smaan came to see me. We went for a long walk all around the old ramparts, with me slowing my impatient gait to keep pace with his small unsteady steps. He talked a lot, perhaps to hide his own embarrassment and emotion . . . He had worried about my personal safety but even more, he admitted, about what I might think…He was sure that I had realized that it had all been cooked up . . . It was more than ever necessary to be united . . . (pp. 267-69)

Mordechai answers automatically, but he is thinking of his Jewish friend’s death and Ben Smaan’s lack of genuine sympathy:

Bissor was dead . . . no amount of research into responsibilities would ever bring him back to life. Ben Smaan was right: one had to educate the mob [showing it that it was being manipulated]. . . . But I was tired and the results were too far off. (p. 268)

The narrator then describes how he began to be drawn to the Jewish national movement, just as the war began.

Though this scene is somewhat melodramatic, Memmi in this autobiographical novel is pushing to their conclusions the logical possibilities of the situation in which he found himself. It is interesting that a pogrom did not actually take place during Memmi’s youth in Tunis, though the 1930s saw rioting against Jews in some provincial towns.12 Thus this imaginary event and scene reflect traditional insecurities and an ultimately pessimistic view of the possibilities for Jews and Arabs to live together in the new age, despite apparent goodwill on the part of some on both sides. The text quoted above, though, implies embarrassment rather than genuine sympathy on the part of the Muslim activist. Memmi himself lived in Tunisia for several post-war years but left in 1956. In Tunis he worked as a teacher, opened an institute of psychology, and continued to be caught up in the fervor of the Tunisian nationalist movement, helping to found a weekly magazine dedicated to the “national struggle.” Memmi gives only hints about his reasons for leaving, which may be more personal and private rather than ideological, and has maintained good relations with Tunisia.13 In 1984 he was awarded the honor of membership in the Order of the Tunisian Republic, and earlier (1953) the prestigious literary Prix de Carthage.14 In his essay Jews and Arabs (1974) he describes himself as an ‘Arab Jew’ in culture, referring to the unique emotional appeal of music, scents, foods and textures from his childhood.15 It must not be forgotten that Memmi was the equal of Frantz Fanon in awareness of the necessity of converting colonized man into independent man. His books The Colonizer and the Colonized (1957) and Dominated Man (1968)16 describe the psychological process of the individual’s liberation from colonial bondage. Memmi portrays Jews as having one foot in each situation, that of the colonizer and that of the colonized.

Memmi’s personal relations with the Muslim majority of his country of origin are unusual. As mentioned earlier, most North African Jews assumed that independence meant that they too had to make a radical break with the past. Marco Koskas’ lyrical novel, Balace Bounel17 (1979) hints at the sadness implicit in the end of an ancient provincial Jewish community. The parochial universe of Marco Koskas’ characters is as shaky as the house which his enthusiastic but over-ambitious architect built (the ‘balace’ of the title represents the local pronunciation of the word ‘palace’ or villa).

Filtered through memory, the events of a generation earlier are evoked through a collective and highly subjective memory. The distance—in terms of time, mentality, degree of traditionalism, language and geography—between then and now is what gives rise to Koskas’ humor, and that makes Balace Bounel a highly entertaining book, albeit with an underlying seriousness. Minor details of private, family history loom large, while ‘important’ historical events are taken for granted, left in the background, perhaps understood only partially. The provincial Jewish community of Nabeul, a coastal town near Tunis, had seemed to live a blissful existence outside time. But history eventually forces the Jews to react to events: the German occupation, independence, the Bizerte crisis between France and Tunisia, eventually compel the family to leave. Some Jews, such as Clément, the son-in-law of Bonan, the main character, join the Tunisian Néo-Destour Party, but are not fully accepted by Muslims as Tunisian patriots. Although he has formerly declared that “I’d rather become an Arab than leave this country” (p. 165), Clément’s turn comes to leave Tunisia for France with his wife and family. They leave virtually empty-handed, thus owing no debts; their break with the past seems absolute. In the departure scene at the port, an insurmountable barrier separates the future (which is becoming the present) from the past, a barrier between “those who are staying there behind the gray bars separating those who are leaving from those who are staying like one last rampart between them, between us, between you” (p. 167). In this way Koskas portrays the tearing apart of communities—the Jewish community and within it Jewish families, and the larger interfaith community of all Tunisians, Jews and Muslims. In the end, only one Jew remains behind in Nabeul, with the task of taking care of all the houses of those who have left. Eventually, exhausted with repairing them, he decides to wall up all the doors and windows on a single day. The novel closes with the list of absentee owners like a census document which will remain as a testament to the existence of the community:

The first house for walling up belonging to Mardoché Haddad, a tailor, sixty-eight by now if he’s still alive, father of nine children, brick and cement . . . Gabriel Chiche brick cement brick cement brick brick, André Serror brick cement, Gaston Temmam brick cement, (p. 234)

The definitiveness and closed nature of this ending is attenuated only by the comma that follows the last word. The comma suggests that the structure might not be closed, that some form of relationship between ‘us’ and ‘you’ the present and the past, the emigrants and the Tunisians left at home, might still exist.

When one considers the two Tunisian novels together, it is apparent that Memmi’s novel achieves its effect through apparent realism,18 while Koskas’ novel uses lyrical techniques. The phrase “Qui se souvient de. . . “ [Who remembers . . .] opening many of the reminiscences of Koskas’ novel, also evokes the title of the Algerian Mohammed Dib’s novel, Qui se souvient de la mer [Who remembers the sea] (1962) dealing with the Algerian Revolution.19 It also evokes the title of Georges (Albert’s brother) Memmi’s Qui se souvient du Café Rubens? [Who remembers the Rubens Café?]. The Jewish novels evoke the classical Ubi Sunt? elegiac tone of nostalgia, while the Muslim writer Mohammed portrays a society torn apart by violence and reforming itself in a new way. Whether realistic or lyrical the Jewish novelists and their semi-fictional characters largely underwent an absolute rupture with their ancient past.

The same can be said, with qualifications, about the fictionalized autobiography of exodus from Egypt, André Aciman’s Out of Egypt.20 This work is only formally a memoir: the author’s imagination recreates, ‘remembers’ family events far before his time, such as how his two grandmothers met each other, leading eventually to the first meeting of his parents, leading eventually to the birth of André, leading to what are, perhaps, his earliest memories of Jewish life in Alexandria, Egypt. Thus the text is more like an elaborately layered Proustian novel than a personal memoir. Aciman is, in fact, a professor of comparative literature with a strong interest in Proust, as evinced by his anthology, The Proust Project.21 Having left Alexandria for good as a teenager, the author visits some of his relatives who are now living in England and Venice, among other places, and finds them, though older, just as he remembers them, but more so. These colorful characters did not originate in Egypt but had moved there perhaps from Italy or perhaps a generation earlier from Turkey or Syria. Great Uncle Vili continues his posturing in the English countryside and has no patience for nostalgia. His professions have been “Soldier, Salesman, Swindler, Spy” and he is a “Turco-Italian-Anglophile-gentrified-Fascist Jew who had started his professional life peddling Turkish fezzes in Vienna and Berlin and was to end it as the sole auctioneer of deposed King Farouk’s property” (p. 7). His favorite phrase, delivered as an enigmatic challenge, is “Siamo o non siamo?”  The author’s agenda is to “speak to him of Alexandria, of time lost and lost worlds, of the end when the end came” (p. 3), and this indeed is the subject of Aciman’s book. All that remains is this memoir, the old world having been as totally lost as Aunt Flora’s silverware, which was all she had managed to salvage when they were expelled, for over the subsequent years she spent alone in Venice, she gradually mislaid all the cutlery piece by piece.

From Morocco, to Egypt, to Iraq, Sephardim over the second half of the twentieth century were forced to flee their ancestral homes in Muslim lands, often taking with them no more than a small suitcase and hardly any money, to start new lives on other continents, in totally different climes and cultures. That they successfully restarted their lives, from Israel to Europe to North and South America, without the aid of the United Nations or any refugee agency, is a tribute to them, and allows one to make comparisons with the fate of the roughly equal number of Palestinian refugees after 1948. That of course would be beyond our scope. My goal has simply been to describe how Sephardic writers themselves have portrayed the end of convivencia or symbiosis in aesthetic, novelistic ways. From Didier Nebot’s imagining of the expulsion from Spain, an archetype for more recent expulsions, to Naim Kattan’s farewell to Iraq, Albert Memmi’s and Marco Koskas’ departure from Tunisia, and Andre Aciman’s reluctant leavetaking from Egypt, emotional pain is sometimes masked under humor, but always present.


* Judith Roumani is the editor of Sephardic Horizons. With thanks to Ralph Tarica for his comments.

 1. The phrase ‘Jewish-Arab symbiosis’ originated with S.D. Goitein, in Jews and Arabs: Their Contacts through the Ages (New York: Schocken, 1955), where he discusses their literary and linguistic contacts, and the fact that the two peoples underwent cultural renaissance at the same time. For contributions to this debate on the Middle East, see e.g. Bernard Lewis, “Muslims, Christians and Jews: The Dream of Coexistence,” New York Review of Books 34:6 (March 26, 1992), 48-52 and other works by Bernard Lewis, esp. The Jews of Islam. Most works on the history of Jews in the Middle East include some reference to the issue. For a basic starting bibliography, see Daniel Elazar, The Other Jews: The Sephardim Today (New York: Basic Books, 1989), pp. 221-22. Jonathan Decter recently used the term regarding the eleventh century: “Jewish migration out of al-Andalus instigated a process of establishing Islamic Iberia as a place of memory that could be recalled as an unrecoverable ideal, as a social and cultural template to be re-created elsewhere, or as an experiment in Jewish-Islamic symbiosis that had failed.” Iberian Jewish Literature: Between al-Andalus and Christian Europe (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2007), p. 3.

2. There has been a longstanding debate among scholars of Spanish history as to whether the concept of convivencia among Christians, Jews and Muslims in medieval Spain corresponded to any reality. After centuries of suppressing the contribution of Jews and Muslims to Spanish culture, the historians and philosophers of the Generation of 1898 began to revise that view. The modern historian Américo Castro coined the term convivencia in part to recognize the contributions of non-Christians to national culture, only to have it questioned by later scholars. As Benjamin Gampel states, “Recently there has been some reticence to utilize the concept of convivencia but there is no doubt that the term still occasions much resonance and is the point of departure for many of the reflections on medieval Iberian culture and society. See Benjamin Gampel, “Does Medieval Navarrese Jewry Salvage our Notion of Convivencia?” Paper presented at Univ. of Maryland conference, May, 1991. For a continuing defense of the notion of convivencia, see e.g. Isidro Bango, Remembering Sepharad: Jewish Culture in Medieval Spain (Madrid: State Corporation for Spanish Cultural Action Abroad, 2004); and my review of this book in La Lettre Sépharade, Eng. ed., 17 (April, 2004), 8-10. See also María Rosa Menocal, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (New York: Little, Brown, 2002).

3. Emeq Habaka (1560) was widely read and was circulated in Ladino translation. Yosef Ha-Kohen’s life in itself was a series of tragedies and wanderings as a result of forced migrations in France and Italy. See Moshe Lazar, Sefarad in My Heart: A Ladino Reader (Lancaster, CA: Labyrinthos, 1999), pp. 525-538.

4. On the modern history of the Jews of Italy, see e.g. Bernard Cooperman et al., ed., The Jews of Italy Memory and Identity (Bethesda, MD: University Press of Maryland, 2000), esp. contributions by Anna Bravo, Fabio Levi, Michele Sarfatti, and Liliana Picciotto Fargion; and David Myers et al., Acculturation and its Discontents: The Italian Jewish Experience between Exclusion and Integration (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2008).

5 Scattered signs of a Jewish presence have been discovered by foreigners visiting Iraq. A Jewish archive stored in the basement of Saddam Hussein’sintelligence service, Jewish books and Torah scrolls strewn around, or a rediscovered former synagogue, now turned into a mosque, have been the subjects of media reports. There is a project to photograph such sites before they are totally obliterated. See e.g. Hershel Shanks, “Saddam’s Jewish Archives, ” Moment 28:5 (Oct. 2003), 44-49.

6. Originally published as Adieu, Babylone (Montreal: Éditions La Presse, 1975); trans. Sheila Fischman, 2005; (London: Souvenir Press, 2007).

7. Another, purely autobiographical work is Sasson Somekh’s Baghdad Yesterday: The Making of an Arab Jew (Jerusalem: Ibis, 2008). Somekh was inspired by Arab poets in Baghdad before his departure, and in Israel became the doyen of Arabic literature studies. Another Iraqi Jewish writer of similar interests is Shmuel Moreh. Thus it was not unusual that Kattan was fluent in Arabic but rather typical of his circle and generation.

8. Another poignant nonfiction work on the efforts of Iraqi Jews to support Iraqi nationalism, and their ultimate expulsion, is J. Daniel Khazoom et al., No Way Back: The Journey of a Jew from Baghdad  (Sacramento: KOH Library, 2010); Sasson Somekh, has a second volume, Life after Baghdad: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew in Israel, 1950-2000 (Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press. 2012).

9. Naim Kattan, Ecrire le réel (Montreal : Hurtubise, 2008, pp.19-20.

10. Albert Memmi, La Statue de sel 1953 ; rev.ed., pref. Albert Camus (Paris : Gallimard, 1966) ; trans. Edouard Roditi (New York, 1955; Boston: Beacon, 1992).

11. The Mordechai of the Book of Esther is a member of a threatened religious minority in the far-flung empire of Persia. This figure has much more in common with Memmi’s cultural situation than any earlier Biblical figure.

12. Pogroms occurred in Algeria in 1805, 1884, and 1897-98. In Tunisia there were anti-Jewish riots in 1917, 1932, and 1934. Probably Memmi had heard news of the 1941 events in Iraq, and murderous riots that occurred in Libya in 1945 and were again attempted in 1948 (Encyc., Jud,). For a general introduction to the situation in North Africa, see André Chouraqui, Between East and West: A History of the Jews of North Africa trans. Michael Bernet (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1968; 1973).

13. These were possible in the case of Tunisia, but would not have been possible in the case of Iraq for Naim Kattan. In a short essay on Kattan, Memmi himself pointed out the different circumstances in which Jews left Tunisia and Iraq: “on leur a retiré leur passeport pour les empêcher même d’y revenir pour des vacances. Ils ont connu la peur physique, celle de la mort possible; nous, à peine. . . cependant…notre destinée historique fut objectivement la même. » Albert Memmi, « Naïm Kattan, mon semblable, mon frère, » in Jacques Allard, ed., Naïm Kattan : L’Ecrivain du passage (Montreal : Hurtubise, 2002), pp. 91-94.

14. Other Tunisian Jews have specified why they themselves or their families left Tunisia. See e.g. Danielle David, “Identité perdue, identité retrouvée, identité,” CELAAN 7:1&2 (Spring 2009), 122-134, esp. 127-29, detailing the disappointment of Jewish government employees, Tunisian nationals born in Tunisia yet consistently passed over in favor of Muslims when it came to promotions, and their sense of alienation and of being excluded from the new nation-state. Memmi is well aware of the many facets of alienation and the gradual or sudden realization of exclusion. Memmi seems to have stayed on in Tunisia for about two years after independence. In La Terre intérieure: Entretiens avec Victor Malka (Paris: Gallimard, 1976) he gave an external reason and a purely personal one for leaving Tunisia: “Ce que je sentais si fortement . . . à la fois que la cause de la Tunisie était juste et que tous les minoritaires non musulmans n’y auraient plus leur place. Je travaillais d’ailleurs sur le Portrait du colonisé et ce que j’avais vu intuïtivement devenait plus claire, plus cohérent: une jeune nation naissait, s’affirmait et pour un temps allait expulser de sa vie tout ce qui n’était pas exactement elle-même . . . Pourquoi n’aurais-je pas tourné la page? Il m’était même nécessaire de la tourner, pour avancer. La preuve en est que j’en ai fait un livre; c’est une preuve constante chez moi; un livre termine, résume et clôt quelque chose. C’est ainsi que j’achevai à Paris le Portrait du colonisé suivi du Portrait du colonisateur” (pp. 135-36,140). One study of his work, by Guy Dugas,  is entitled Albert Memmi: Ecrivain de la déchirure , (Sherbrooke: Naaman, 1984). The bibliography on Memmi’s extensive work is voluminous: for bibliography prior to the mid-1980s, see my Albert Memmi (Philadelphia: CELFAN Edition Monographs, 1987); for 1985-2000, see Guy Dugas, Albert Memmi: Du Malheur d’être juif au bonheur sépharade (Paris: Alliance Israélite Universelle, 2001).

15. Juifs et arabes (Paris: Gallimard, 1974); Jews and Arabs trans. Eleanor Levieux (Chicago, J.P. O’Hara, 1975), esp. pp. 74-75.

16. Portrait du colonisé precede du Portrait du colonisateur, pref. Jean-Paul Sartre (Paris : Payot, 1973) trans. Howard Greenfield, The Colonizer and the Colonized 1965 (Boston : Beacon Press, 1967) ; L’Homme dominé (1968; Paris: Payot, 1973); trans. Eleanor Levieux, Dominated Man: Notes Towards a Portrait (New York: Orion, 1968).

17. Marco Koskas, Balace Bounel (Paris, Ramses, 1979). This novel won the Prix du premier roman in France in 1979. I interviewed Koskas in Paris in November 1987 and he described how the novel achieved some notoreity in the Tunisian Jewish community due to its ‘washing our dirty linen in public’, an understandable reaction from a traditional community. Koskas has subsequently followed a career as a private detective as well as a writer. The two careers came together after an unfortunate episode in Paris in which he was unjustly arrested, imprisoned, and kept in solitary confinement following 9/11. He describes this experience in his memoir Avoue d’abord (Paris: Table ronde, 2007).

18. However, on Memmi’s complicated use of fact in his work, see Lea Brozgal, Against Autobiography: Albert Memmi and the Production of Theory (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013).

19. For a comparison, see my article “Responses to North African Independence in the Novels of Dib, Memmi and Koskas: The End of Muslim-Jewish Symbiosis?” Middle East Review 20:2 (Winter 1988), 33-40.

20. André Aciman, Out of Egypt: A Memoir (New York: Farrar, Straus/Picador, 1994).

21. André Aciman, ed., The Proust Project (New York: Strauss and Giroux, 2004), in which 28 writers are invited to discuss what Proust means to them, and Aciman adds his own essay.

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