You are here

Arabic as a Secret Song

Leïla Sebbar. Translated by Skyler Artes. Afterword by Mildred Mortimer

BUY Cloth · 120 pp. · 5.5 × 8.5 · ISBN 9780813937564 · $65.00 · Jun 2015
BUY Paper · 120 pp. · 5.5 × 8.5 · ISBN 9780813937571 · $24.50 · Jun 2015
BUY Ebook · 120 pp. · ISBN 9780813937588 · $24.50 · Jun 2015

The celebrated and highly versatile writer Leïla Sebbar was born in French colonial Algeria but has lived nearly her entire adult life in France, where she is recognized as a major voice on the penetrating effects of colonialism in contemporary society. The dramatic contrast between her past and present is the subject of the nine autobiographical essays collected in this volume. Written between 1978 and 2006, they trace a journey that began in Aflou, Algeria, where her father ran a schoolhouse, and continued to France, where Sebbar traveled, alone, as a graduate student before eventually realizing her powerful creative vision.

The pieces collected in this book capture an array of experiences, sensations, and sentiments surrounding the French colonial presence in Algeria and offer an intimate and prismatic reflection on Sebbar’s bicultural upbringing as the child of an Algerian father and French mother. Sebbar paints an unflinching portrait of her original disconnection from her father’s Arabic language and culture, depicting her struggle to revive a cultural heritage that her family had deliberately obscured and to convey the vibrant yet muted Arabic of her father and of Algeria. Looking back from numerous vantage points throughout her life, she presents the complicated and divisive dynamics of being raised "between two shores"--the colonized and the colonizer.

CARAF Books: Caribbean and African Literature Translated from French


Leïla Sebbar is a renowned novelist who merits a place alongside other acclaimed French-language writers of North African heritage such as Kateb Yacine, Assia Djebar, and Mohammed Dib. Arabic as a Secret Song is a fascinating collection of meditations on Sebbar’s own relationship with the two languages she associates with her parents--the Arabic of her father and the French of her mother.

Patricia Geesey, University of North Florida, translator of Land and Blood by Mouloud Feraoun

The volume offers poignant insights into Sebbar's sense of loss and fractured cultural identity, an intimacy that pervades the exile's personal and public critical trajectory.


Sebbar’s Arabic as a Secret Song is a dense, rich, very well-written, and poetic text.... a thought-provoking recapitulation and complex reflection on the motivations and themes that underlie her fictional and autobiographical writings.

Mediterranean Studies

Interested in this topic?
Stay updated with our newsletters:

Related Books