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“Sherazade”: Seeking an Arab Identity in 20th Century Paris

Sherazade%20Image9by David Aossey. In the spirit of assessing the insidious reach of 21st century Post-colonialism (as opposed to, say, watching it shrink and disappear in the rear view mirror of history), the novel, “Sherazade,” offers a timeless reminder of what once was, and what might always be. Sherazade is a young Algerian runaway living with a group of wayward youths of various stripes and nationalities in an abandoned tenement building in late 20th century Paris. Torn between old world expectations and the promise of a new social and economic order, Sherazade searches desperately for an identity as an Arab, an Algerian, an African and a woman  – only to discover colonialism to bea brutally possessive master that never lets go.

Told through a collection of vignettes, the story unveils Sherazade’s relationships with a cast of kindred characters. Julian, the sympathetic son of French-Algerians, functions as the catalyst in the story. He befriends Sherazade as she struggles to understand herself and her surroundings, only to disappoint the young woman in the end, revealing the true face of an elitist, misogynistic, class system.

The beauty of the story lies in the author’s use of metaphor to represent a broader world view. The dystopia of endless struggle in which Sherazade and her fellow teen squatters live provides a wrenching symbol of French post-colonialism, one that has left its inhabitants dispossessed and impoverished amongst so much natural wealth and human potential. Sherazade’s struggle for personal/spiritual redemption throughout the story might also be interpreted as a search for an Arab identity under the oppressive regimes of European colonialism and post-colonialism. Other books have traveled down this path recently, using old-world social mores, outmoded cultural expectations and identity conflict as symbols of impotence and failure. The recent novel “ATTA,” by Jarett Kobek, comes to mind.

By Leila Sebbar
Interlink Publishing Group, 2014, pp. 285.

This review will apear in Al Jadid, Vol. 19, No. 68.

© Copyright 2014  AL JADID MAGAZINE

Featured image, cover.