February 2021

Abou Qasim Chebbi and contemporary Tunisian literature

Writing has always been my solace.  I’ve kept a journal since around the age of 7 and dabbled in poetry.  It is an outlet that has soothed me in difficult times. Of course it began with a love of reading and storytelling.  My Mum has always been able to choose books that I will love and my Dad’s stories of his childhood growing up in the West of Scotland were as magical & entertaining as any tales of wizards & witches.

My preference for reading about other cultures and travel started around the age of 14.  I was desperate to visit Pakistan, learn Urdu and see the intricate multicoloured truck art.  As an adult, I’ve learned and am still learning, the importance of how we view and appreciate other cultures, particularly those in the global south who have and continue to be exploited by their northern counterparts.  I’ve read many books about cultures and countries written by people who have extensively researched to produce wonderful books.  I’ve also read some which sadly reinforce Orientalist stereotypes.   I can’t help but wonder why give them such prominence in literature instead of reading actual work of writers from the global south?

Today, on the birthday of Tunisia’s national poet, Abou Qasim Chebbi I want to share with you some of my favourite works by Tunisian writers.  There are too few books translated from Arabic to English although the International Prize for Arab Fiction is slowly changing that.  One of my favourite independent bookshops, The Lighthouse can order them in for you if you’re interested!  Alternatively let me know and I’d be glad to lend you my copy.

Behind Closed Doors –  Women’s Oral Narratives in Tunis

As a sucker for linguistics and storytelling I absolutely adore this book.  Although the stories are fictional, the tellers and their methods are so true to my own experience of women, sisterhood & strength in Tunisia.  I am so thankful for Monia Hejaiej who has captured a piece of history that is too precious to be lost.

Return to Dar al-Basha

Themes of family, patriarchy and tradition all feature in this novel by contemporary writer Hassan Nasr.  Set in Tunis, it covers different time periods and is told from different narratives/perspectives.

A Tunisian Tale

Written by the politically controversial Hassouna Mosbahi, this book is full of dark suspense.  It follows the life of a desperate young sociopath living in poverty with his mother in Tunis.  The style of the writing reminds me of The Wasp Factory or Lord of the Flies.

I Wish I Can Live Life

I’ll end with a signpost to a poem by the dearly departed, Abou Qasim Chebbi.  He died at the age of just 25.  It feels particularly poignant during this time of isolation we have endured.


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