Historical Imaginings: North African Jews in Literary Worlds

Averroës Lecture Series

Historical Imaginings: North African Jews in Literary Worlds

A Conversation Featuring Dr. Hassan Aourid (Author) and Dr. Brahim El Guabli (Williams College), with an introduction by Aomar Boum (UCLA)

Wednesday, May 3, 2023
12:00 PM (Pacific Time)
193 Kaplan Hall

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Arab novelists featured Jewish characters and themes in their works as they engaged with questions of Jewish life in the Maghreb and the Middle East since World War II. Whether they are from Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran or Yemen, among others, novelists from the region focused in an earlier period on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by creating characters who conveyed the state of struggle for survival amidst ongoing conflict. This period of struggle-focused literature has receded in recent years, opening up space for a different kind of novelistic output that now serves as a medium for the rewriting of histories of Middle Eastern and North African Jews at a time when statal histories either erased or silenced their own Jewish pasts. Literature, written in Arabic and other languages in the region, has rehabilitated internal Jewish histories and created opportunities for younger generations to learn about a community that no longer exists in many countries in the Maghreb and the Middle East. In tandem with the increasingly rich filmography about Jews, novels are a crucial locus for a multilayered understanding of how societies that formerly had thousands of Jewish citizens are now coping with their former existence. This Jewish turn in historical and literary novels has opened many intellectual and public conversations about Jewish history and identity. Morocco, specifically, has been one of the places where literature and film about Jews have flourished in the last two decades.

A litterateur, political scientist, and historian, Dr. Hassan Aourid is a celebrated author whose novels reflect a conscious historical engagement with the place of Jews in Mediterranean and North African societies. Using the context of Muslim Spain, Dr. Aourid situates his characters in the past of Convivencia and the present of the Middle Eastern conflict to depict a complex web of relationships in which Jewish and Muslim lives are entangled through histories of peace and conflict, acceptance and rejection, and a strong attachment to their shared homeland. Cintra, one of his many novels, uses the space of a colonial-Casablanca bar to tell the story of a Jewish-Muslim couple in the 1940s. A story of love and struggle through a prism of an emerging nationalism and a “dying colonialism.” In this public conversation, Dr. Hassan Aourid will be in dialogue with Dr. Brahim El Guabli, a leading North African scholar whose work examines the historiographical and civic implications of the literary and cinematic returns of Jews in literature. In their conversation, Dr. Aourid and Dr. El Guabli shed light on the use of novels to write silenced Jewish histories, the meaning of straddling indigeneity and Amazighity to write about Jews as well as the processes that novelists use to give their work historical credibility. The panelists will also address the benefits and risks embedded in novelistic writings of history. Our two guests will discuss these questions and more in their conversation. 

Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies, UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Anthropology, English, Moroccan Jewish Studies Program