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The quest for identity and the loss of identity in North African literature of exile

Imene Belhassen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation examines the theme of exile in the writings of North African writers, and explores how exile shapes their notion of identity. The notion of "exile" can be understood in two related but distinct ways: literally, it refers to a forced emigration, and metaphorically, to a voluntary one. This dissertation studies both types of exile, focusing on the metaphorical definition, and interpreting many forms of social exclusion as manifestations of a metaphorical exile. The focus is on francophone North African writers who are currently living in France, either willingly or by force, such as Tahar Ben Jelloun, Assia Djebar, and Malika Mokeddem, and on Beur writers, such as Azouz Begag, Mahdi Charef, and Leïla Marouane. The thesis is a literary study of their works, assessing the varied ways in which exile is portrayed, as well as several implied questions. One of these is the nature of exile itself: examining how it represents a loss, and how it is a quest for the acquisition of a new identity. The works examined are L'enfant de sable, La nuit sacrée, Jour de silence à Tangers, L'interdite, Des rêves et des assassins, Vaste est la prison, Le thé au harem, Le Gone du Châaba, and La vie sexuelle d'un Islamiste à Paris. This dissertation also investigates the way in which Islam is represented in the literature of exile, as a religion, a culture, or an ethnicity. It also takes into account the effect of gender, in terms of the differences and similarities between representations created by male and female writers. Additionally, it examines how Islam, as a religion and as a strict political ideology, is one of the primary reasons for the exile of some North African writers, especially those from Algeria, due to the emergence of oppressive fundamentalism, and how this is reflected in their novels. This study concludes that these writers use exile as a tool by which to examine their roots through nostalgia and criticism, and to regain a lost freedom and acquire a new identity.

Subject Area

African literature|North African Studies

Recommended Citation

Belhassen, Imene, "The quest for identity and the loss of identity in North African literature of exile" (2013). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3559661.