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Begag, Azouz 1957-

PERSONAL:

Born February 5, 1957, in Lyon, France; children: two daughters. Education: University of Lyon, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES:

Office—35, rue Saint-Dominique 75007 Paris, France.

CAREER:

Writer, novelist, sociologist, social critic, educator, and screenwriter. Government of France, minister of equal opportunity, 2004—; Conseil Economique et Social, member. Ecole Centrale de Lyon, professor; Maison des sciences socials et humaines, and Centre national de la recherche scientifique, researcher in economics, 1980—. Florida State University, visiting professor, Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, 2002—. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, visiting professor. Actor in films, including Merci Docteur Rey (as himself), 2002, and Les Diables, 2002.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Prix Marcel Pagnol, 2004, for Le marteau pique-coeur; Chevalier de l'Ordre national du Mérite, Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur.

WRITINGS:

L'immigré et sa ville, Presses universitaires de Lyon (Lyon, France), 1984.

Le Gone du Chaâba, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1986, translation published as Shantytown Kid, edited and with an introduction by Alec G. Hargreaves, translated by Naima Wolf and Alec G. Hargreaves, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2007.

(With Gérard Claisse and Patrick Moreau) Minitel, information et transports collectifs urbains, Laboratoire d'économie des transports (Lyon, France), 1987.

Béni, ou, Le paradis privé, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1989.

North African Immigrants in France: The Socio-Spatial Representation of "Here" and "There", European Research Centre, Loughborough University (Loughborough, England), 1989, reprinted, 1991.

(With Abdellatif Chaouite) Ecarts d'identité, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1990.

(With Catherine Louis) Les voleurs d'écritures, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1990.

La ville des autres: la famille immigrée et l'espace urbain, Presses universitaires de Lyon (Lyon, France), 1991.

La force du berger, La Joie de lire (Geneva, Switzerland), 1991.

L'Ilet-aux-Vents, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1992, also published as L'Illet-aux-Vents.

Les tireurs d'étoiles, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1992.

Jordi et le rayon perdu: energie, La Joie de lire (Geneva, Switzerland), 1992.

(With George Marsh) Strangers in Europe: Fiction, Poetry and Drama by European Immigrant Writers, City Arts—Portsmouth City Council (Portsmouth, England), 1992.

(With Catherine Louis) Le temps des villages, La Joie de lire (Geneva, Switzerland), 1993.

(With Christian Delorme) Quartiers sensibles, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1994.

(With Catherine Louis) Quand on est mort, c'est pour toute la vie, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1994.

(With Catherine Louis) Une semaine à Cap Maudit, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1994.

Les chiens aussi, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1995.

Espace et exclusion: mobilités dans les quartiers péripheriques d'Avignon, L'Harmattan (Paris, France), 1995.

(With Catherine Louis) Ma maman est devenue une étoile, La Joie de lire (Geneva, Switzerland), 1995.

(With Catherine Louis) Mona et le bateau-livre, Chardon Bleu Editions (Lyon, France), 1996.

Place du Pont, ou, La médina de Lyon, Éditions Autrement (Paris, France), 1997.

Zenzela, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1997.

Dis oualla!: récit, Fayard (Paris, France), 1997.

Lyon ville écrite: des lieux et des écrivains, Stock (Paris, France), 1997.

(With Reynald Rossini) Du bon usage de la distance chez les sauvageons, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1999.

Le passeport, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 2000.

(With Ahmed Beneddif) Ahmed de Bourgogne, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 2001.

(With Catherine Louis) Un train pour chez nous, Magnier (Paris, France), 2001.

Les Dérouilleurs: ces Francais de banlieue qui ont réussi, Mille et une nuits (Paris, France), 2002.

L'intégration, Cavalier bleu (Paris, France), 2003.

Le marteau pique-coeur, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 2004.

Ethnicity and Equality: France in the Balance, translation and with an introduction by Alec G. Hargreaves, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2007.

SCREENPLAYS

Le Gone du Chaâba (title means "The Kid from Chaaba"), Films Christiani, 1998.

Camping à la ferme, Pan Européenne Production, 2005.

Le Voyage de Louisa, Pampa Production, 2005.

Writer for television series, La Famille Ramdan, 1990. Author's works have been translated into Spanish and German.

SIDELIGHTS:

A sense of place—and how one fits into that place—is a central theme in the works of Azouz Begag. As a French citizen of Algerian descent, Begag has portrayed the experience of the immigrant in a Western, urban environment from the point of view of both a young child and of an educated adult. A noted intellectual, Begag has experienced a multifaceted professional career as a sociologist, novelist, screenwriter, social critic, and cabinet member in the French government.

"Best known as the author of sensitive and witty first-person narratives drawing on his childhood experiences as part of an Algerian immigrant family in Lyons," commented Alex G. Hargreaves in French Studies, Begag writes novels and short stories largely geared to a juvenile or popular audience. Keenly aware of the academic focus of late-twentieth-century scholarship on postcolonial themes, his nonfiction tackles the issues of physical and psychological marginality on the part of immigrant families in urban France.

Of primary interest to Begag are the minority "Beurs" of France, second-generation immigrants whose parents left Algeria and who are themselves legal citizens of their adopted country. As described in a Wilson Quarterly review, "these young ‘Beurs’ … are obviously not going to return to North Africa…. Nor are they well prepared to make a place for themselves in France's highly stratified society. Many are poorly educated; unemployment is high, as is the incidence of crime and poverty." Into this world, Begag inserts characters who are challenged by their status of being "neither here nor there."

Le Gone du Chaâba is the autobiographical novel in which Begag presents the themes of immigrant marginal status in all their complexity. Tracing the family's journey from the ancient trading post of Chaâba in Algeria to the outskirts of Lyon and other suburban zones, the author develops a sequence of "displacements" and dislocations that add up to progressive and irreversible alienation from the ancestral culture; at the same time, the host culture of suburban France offers no permanence or sense of place. The effects of this process are experienced in the novel through the eyes of Azouz, a child who becomes something of a chameleon within the environments he is forced to inhabit. He is "an Arab" to his ethnically French classmates in school, a term used to mark him as one of "les sales Arabes," or "the dirty Arabs."

"Azouz is confronted with this dilemma," wrote Judith Preckshot in the French Review: "how to remove the ‘worthless’ tag in school without denying the support and acceptance of the Arab brotherhood of his family and fellow Algerians?" As samia Mehrez noted in Yale French Studies: "The word Beur itself … in contemporary colloquial/French … means arabe pronounced backwards. It is a perfect example of the struggle against exile." Taking on this name—reversing literally the stigma of being labeled a "dirty Arab"—should mean that the second-generation Algerians in France can recreate themselves with a new identity for their new home. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as inverting a derogatory expression, and the tension created by the contradictory social demands on children like Azouz drives the narrative of Le Gone du Chaâba.

In the face of globalization and the reactions this movement causes among the "native" populations of European countries, the social commentary offered by authors and critics such as Azouz Begag provides the voice of the marginalized "other." It is the aim of Begag and his Beur compatriots to educate their French and international audiences about the plight of these people through literature devoted to describing and analyzing their struggles on the outskirts of French society and politics. Begag addresses this issue through his fictional works, which in total "clearly parallel his discovery and revelation of his identity as a Frenchman of Maghrebi origin," commented Kathryn Lay-Chenchabi in Mots Pluriels. "Begag, through writing, has divested himself of the guilt that was consuming him in his attempts to move into French society," Lay-Chenchabi concluded.

With Le marteau pique-coeur, "while not abandoning the social themes and imagery involved in immigrant and postimmigrant identity that characterized his earlier works, Begag recounts a far more personal story of loss and uncertainty," commented Leonard R. Koos in World Literature Today. Two main events drive the novel. The first is the death of Begag's father in Lyon, France, and his burial in Setif, Algeria. Second, Begag chronicles the destruction of another personal relationship through the betrayal of his unfaithful wife, which led to divorce. These events dramatically alter the structure and course of life within Begag's family, and direct the narrator's attention outward from general issues of immigration and origin to internal, personal reactions to loss and betrayal. Begag "charts the dolefully inevitable movement away from an origin as one settles into adulthood," Koos noted.

In 2004, Begag took a larger step on his broad educational mission when he was appointed by French president Dominique de Villepin as the country's Minister of Equal Opportunity. The next year, Begag was detained for questioning by U.S. Customs agents at the Atlanta International Airport, despite his diplomatic credentials. The United States apologized for the incident and Begag responded graciously.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

French Review, March, 2001, Judith Preckshot, "L'Education obligatoire et les voix minoritaires dans les écrits francophones," p. 660; March, 2006, "From the Editor's Desk," profile of Azouz Begag.

French Studies, October, 1992, Alec G. Hargreaves, "Review: La Ville des autres," p. 498.

Washington Post, October 26, 2006, Elaine Ganley, "French Cabinet Minister Rejects Tokenism," profile of Azouz Begag.

Wilson Quarterly, summer, 1990, "A Beur's-Eye View of France," p. 135.

World Literature Today, May-August, 2005, Leonard R. Koos, review of Le marteau pique-coeur, p. 81.

Yale French Studies, May, 1993, Samia Mehrez, "Azouz Begag: Un di Zafas di Bidoufile (Azouz Begag: Un des enfants du bidonville), or, The Beur Writer: A Question of Territory," p. 25.

ONLINE

Alterites.com,http://www.alterites.com/ (September 28, 2004), Maya Larguet, biography of Azouz Begag.

Florida State University Contemporary French and Francophone Studies Web site, http://www.fsu.edu/˜icffs/ (January 22, 2007), biography of Azouz Begag.

France in the United Kingdom Web site,http://www.ambafrance-uk.org/ (January 22, 2007), Mélina Gazsi, biography of Azouz Begag.

French Ministry of Equal Opportunity Web site,http://www.premier-ministre.gouv.fr/ (January 22, 2007), biography of Azouz Begag.

Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (January 22, 2007), filmography of Azouz Begag.

Mots Pluriels,http://www.arts.uwa.edu.au/MotsPluriels/ (April, 2001), Kathryn Lay-Chenchabi, "Writing for Their Lives: Three Beur Writers Discover Themselves," profile of Azouz Begag.

New Republic Online,http://www.tnr.com/ (November 9, 2005), Keelin McDonnell, "Meet Azouz Begag, Equal Opportunity Offender," profile of Azouz Begag.

Voice of America,http://www.voanews.com/ (October 21, 2005), "U.S. Apologizes to France over Diplomatic Incident."

Begag, Azouz 1957-

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