Coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of Algeria's independence, Polygraphies is significant and timely in its focus on autobiographical writings by seven of the most prominent francophone women writers from Algeria today, including Maïssa Bey, Hélène Cixous, Assia Djebar, and Malika Mokeddem. These authors witnessed both the "before" and "after" of the colonial experience in their land, and their fictional and theoretical texts testify to the lasting impact of this history. From a variety of personal perspectives and backgrounds, each writer addresses linguistic, religious, and racial issues of crucial contemporary importance in Algeria. Alison Rice engages their work from a range of disciplines, striving both to heighten our sensitivity to the plurality inherent in their texts and to move beyond a true/false dichotomy to a wealth of possible truths, all communicated in writing.
The connections among texts by these various authors are articulated clearly and persuasively. The book’s elegant analysis of parallels in several of these authors’ autobiographical scenes makes the case for reading Cixous and Djebar together in ways that have not been done before. It also provides an original contribution to the scholarship on less-studied but important authors.
Polygraphies is a fascinating study of ‘women writing Algeria,’ and it is innovative in its inclusion of important writers born in Algeria, whether now considered "French" or "Algerian". Bringing these women’s voices together through their use of the autobiographical mode is an inspired move, and the title expresses the range of personal experience, as well as literary form, that is involved. The author is especially gifted in her ability to ground her literary analysis in a wide range of contemporary literary theory. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
Alison Rice, Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Literature at the University of Notre Dame, is the author of Time Signatures: Contextualizing Contemporary Francophone Autobiographical Writing from the Maghreb.