I have chosen to focus on contemporary texts written by authors who live at the crossroads of Europe and the Maghreb. The texts that make up my study material address transnational, transcultural and even transdiasporic subjectivity in a manner that is distinct from previous bodies of work. While the authors who write these novels come out of a specific context, they speak to questions of global importance.
Transforming Family: North Africa, the Francophone Diaspora and Kinship in the 21st Century
Across the globe, national governments have developed a variety of laws that allow immigrants and other guest workers to sponsor the migration of their family members. In France, such laws are commonly referred to as le regroupement familial; designed in the mid-1970s to “regroup” families of the growing North African population in France, these laws were implemented to protect the family unit. As such, they have also drawn contours around a particular kind of family, defined by nuclearity and normativity—a family that the government considers worthy of legal protection. These laws are not the only mechanism by which definitions of family have been restricted on behalf of North Africa and her diaspora. In his essay “La famille algérienne” (1959), Frantz Fanon examined how the Algerian War of Independence altered the structure of families in Algeria, and he implicitly concluded that the Algerian family was making progress toward an unspoken ideal. (Much of this progress-oriented discourse revalorized the Western, nuclear model that has been oppressive to families that do not conform.) Many of the families he referenced now occupy a transnational space at the intersection of North Africa and France. Consequently, they have been left to negotiate a set of competing discourses surrounding familial models. Perhaps even more notably, non-conforming families are often relegated to the margins of French society due to the ideological underpinnings of their host country, which conflate difference with pathology.
In response to this quandary, writers who inhabit the transnational, transcultural, and transdiasporic North African community are creating narratives that contradict the culturally prescribed familial model. Each of these writers asserts the formative role of their non-nuclear, transnationally-positioned families. While the contours of this role are unique in each case study, when read together they underscore the urgency of questioning our contemporary understanding of family. As political debates related to migration, the family unit, and the “global migrant crisis” surge on an international scale, my work destabilizes governmental criteria for the “regrouping” of families by turning to a set of alternate definitions found in cultural products by members of the Francophone North African diaspora.
This book project engages a series of philosophical questions regarding what family is with literary source material. My analysis, dedicated to a set of cultural products assembled for this study, re-centers these questions and invigorates scholarly attention to the roles of affect, emotion, support, obligation and individual choice in the creation of family – roles which are not always attended to in contemporary social debates. The source material I have chosen politicizes the family unit and roots theories of kinship in a variety of alternate discourses. When family is reconsidered according to these new criteria, we can discern an ideological thrust that offers transnationally-positioned families an escape route away from pathologizing language. In other words, my analysis of these primary texts teases out the creative, liberating potential of reading familial relationships differently and emphasizes how all families could be legitimized when seen through the lens of the theories proposed throughout this work.
Therefore, my book not only sheds light on the transnational predicaments of many of today’s families, but also uncovers the need to challenge our understanding of family altogether.
The research I have conducted on this topic has led to the publication of a handful of scholarly articles. The first, “Surrogacy: Temporary Familial Bonds and the Bondage of Origins in Fouad Laroui’s Une année chez les Français” was selected for the 2017 Mark Tessler AIMs Graduate Student Paper Prize and published in The Journal of North African Studies. A second article related to my book project, “Chosen Brotherhood in Abdellah Taïa’s Celui qui est digne d’être aimé”, was recently published by Contemporary French and Francophone Studies.
North Africa is a complex region with various ethnic groups, languages, religions, etc. and a layered history of cross-cultural connections. Recent trends in North African studies have, justifiably, pushed for research that accounts for this multiplicity and I, myself, have written about North African cultural products in a variety of languages. For example, “Feminist Theories of Development Farida Benlyazid’s Double-Bildungstory, La vida perra de Juanita Narboni (2005)” is part of a special issue dedicated to an analysis of contemporary iterations of the Bildungsroman genre. In this article, I examine feminist narratives of development as they appear in Benlyazid’s film and in the film’s novel portrayal of the city of Tangier.
A second example of my research that attends to the multiplicity of North Africa is currently forthcoming in The Journal of the African Literature Association. “Dear Dad: Laila Lalami and the Moroccan-American Dream” will contribute to a special issue related to North African cultural products that are not in French. It takes up two of Laila Lalami’s novels to argue for the emergence of a Moroccan-American Dream that is marked by generational differences.
In addition to writing peer-reviewed articles, I enjoy engaging a public audience in dialogue about my research interests. For example, I recently interviewed Moroccan-American author Laila Lalami for World Literature Today. The interview, titled “Cultivating Empathy and Humility: A Conversation with Laila Lalami,” appeared in print in October of 2019.
I recently wrote “Refugee Literature in the Age of the ‘Global Migrant Crisis'” for Blog // Los Angeles Review of Books. This essay is contemplates the role of literature and the Humanities, more generally, in American discourse and rhetoric surrounding refugees and other displaced peoples.
In January, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Nicole Simek about her translation of Maryse Condé’s La Belle Créole, published in the University of Viriginia’s CARAF series in April of 2020 under the title The Belle Creole. The interview, “The Reverberations of Time: A Conversation with Nicole Simek” is available on the Los Angeles Review of Books webpage.
I occasionally publish reviews of books that I find particularly noteworthy.
- “Horrible Mothers: Representations across Francophone North America, edited by Loïc Bourdeau.” French Studies, forthcoming.
- “Contesting the Classroom: Reimagining Education in Moroccan and Algerian Literatures, by Erin Twohig.” The French Review, forthcoming.
- “Our Civilizing Mission: The Lessons of Colonial Education, by Nicholas Harrison.” The French Review, 93.4.
- “Post-Migratory Cultures in Postcolonial France, edited by Kathryn Kleppinger and Laura Reeck.” The French Review, 92.4.
- “Osons la fraternité ! Les écrivains aux côtés des migrants. Sous la direction de Patrick Chamoiseau et Michel Le Bris.” French Studies, 73.2.
I also review novels and literature in translation:
- “The Other Americans” by Laila Lalami, in World Literature Today, 93.2.
- “‘Do You Hear in the Mountains…’ by Maïssa Bey Probes the Untold Pasts of Algerian History” in Words Without Borders: The Online Magazine for International Literature.