France, Story of a Childhood Zahia Rahmani, Lara Vergnaud

The Margellos World Republic of Letters
Publication date:
07 Jun 2016
Yale University Press
216 pages: 197 x 127 x 14mm
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An intimate, heartbreaking autobiographical novel of an Algerian Muslim family’s exile from home and unwelcoming reception in France

This moving tale of imprisonment and escape, persecution and loss, is narrated by the daughter of an alleged Harki, an Algerian soldier who fought for the French during the Algerian War for Independence. It was the fate of such men to be twice exiled, first in their homeland after the war, and later in France, where fleeing Harki families sought refuge but instead faced contempt, discrimination, and exclusion. Zahia Rahmani blends reality and imagination in her writing, offering a fictionalized version of her own family’s struggle. Lara Vergnaud’s beautiful translation from the French perfectly captures the voices and emotions of Rahmani’s childhood in a foreign land.
While the author delves deeply into the past, she also indicts present-day France and Algeria. From the unique perspective of the daughter of an accused Harki, she examines France’s complex and controversial history with its former colony and offers new insight into the French civil riots of 2005. She makes a stirring plea for understanding between generations and cultures, and especially for an end to the destructive practice of condemning children for their fathers’ actions and beliefs.

Zahia Rahmani, an author and art historian at the National Institute for Art History in France, was born in Algeria during the Algerian War of Independence. Her father was an accused Harki, who was imprisoned as a traitor by the Algerians after the war. He escaped prison and fled with his family to France in 1967. Rahmani now lives in Paris and Oise, France. Lara Vergnaud is a French-English literary translator. She lives in Washington, D.C.

“The translation by Lara Vergnaud…reads beautifully and achieves the difficult task of doing justice to Rahmani’s evocative prose.”—Madeleine Dobie, Journal of Contemporary History 55 (2)

Longlisted for the 2017 National Translation Award in Prose, given by the American Literary Translation Association.

“Timely . . . this coming-of-age memoir describes an intellectually gifted girl, of Muslim origin, who seeks to liberate herself from the narrow-mindedness of the village and from the traditionalist and religious strictures applied to her by her father. . . . France offers an arresting description of how an individual such as Rahmani can endeavor to comprehend her origins . . . but especially to transcend them.”—John Taylor, Arts Fuse

“An unflinching look at the complex relationship between France and Algeria . . . [Rahmani] poses difficult questions about assimilation.”—World Literature Today

“[An] independent spirit is her narrator’s signature . . . The narrative embodies its liberation by shifting willfully from jittery observation to passages of straightforward memoir to lyricism . . . The longer memoiristic flights are the most artful and moving . . . The urgency of Rahmani’s story is never in question.”—Ron Slate, On the Seawall

Longlisted for the 2017 National Translation Award in Prose, given by the American Literary Translation Association.