Kattan, Naïm 1928–

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Kattan, Naïm 1928–

PERSONAL: Born August 26, 1928, in Baghdad, Iraq; immigrated to Canada, 1954; naturalized Canadian citizen, 1959; son of Nessim and Hela Kattan; married Gaetane Laniel (an actress), July 12, 1961; children: Emmanuel. Education: Attended University of Baghdad, 1944–47, and Sorbonne, University of Paris, 1947–52. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Home—Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Office—Department of Letters, University of Quebec, C.P. 8888 Succursale a Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, H3C 3P8, Canada.

CAREER: Nouveau Journal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, commentator on international affairs, 1961–62; Laval University, Quebec, instructor in Middle Eastern affairs, 1962; Commission on Bilingualism, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, writer, 1964–67; Canada Council, Ottawa, head of writing and publishing section, 1967–90; University of Quebec, Montreal, professor, 1990–. Place des Arts, member of board, 1964–68, associate director, 1989.

MEMBER: Royal Society of Canada, Académie Canadienne Française, Ordre National du Quebec (chevalier), Order of Canada (officer), Ordre des Arts et Lettres of France (officer), Legion d'Honneur (chevalier).

AWARDS, HONORS: France Canada Award, 1971, for Le réel et le théâtral; I.J. Segal literary award, 1976; Prix Athanase-David, 2004, for lifetime achievement; Certificat d'Honneur Maurice Cagnon, Conseil International d'Études Francophones, 2005, for exceptional contribution to the development of Francophone studies; honorary doctorates from Middlebury College and University of Novi Sad.


Le réel et le théâtral (critical essays), Editions HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1970, translation by Alan Brown published as Reality and Theatre, Anansi (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1972.

Écrivains des Amériques (critical essays), Editions HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), Volume 1: Les Etats Unis, 1972, Volume 2: Le Canada Anglais, 1976, Volume 3: L'Amerique latine, 1980.

La discrétion, L'Avant-Scene (Paris, France), 1973.

Dans le désert, Leméac (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1974.

La discrétion, La neige, Le trajet, Les protagonistes, Leméac (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1974.

Adieu, Babylone (memoir), Editions La Presse (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1975, translation by Sheila Fischman published as Farewell Babylon: Coming of Age in Jewish Baghdad, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976, Taplinger (New York, NY), 1980, Raincoast Books (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2005, David Godine (Boston, MA), 2007.

La traversée, illustrated by Louise Dancoste, Editions HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1976.

Les fruits arrachés (novel), Editions HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1977, translation by Sheila Fischman published as Paris Interlude, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1979.

La Mémoire et la promesse (essays), Editions HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1978.

Le rivage, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1979.

Le Sable de l'île, Editions HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1981.

The Neighbour and Other Stories, translated by Judith Madley and Patricia Claxton, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1982.

Le désir et le pouvoir (essay), Editions HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1983.

La fiancée promise (novel), Editions HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1983.

La reprise (short stories), Editions HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1985.

Le repos et l'oubli (essays), Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1986.

La fortune du passager (novel), Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1989.

Le père (essay), Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1990.

Farida (novel), Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1991.

La réconciliation (essay), Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1993.

Portraits du pays (essay), L'Hexagone (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1994.

A.M. Klein: La réconcilation des races et des religions (novel), Editions X Y Z (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1994, translation by Edward Baxter published as A.M. Klein: Poet and Prophet, Editions X Y Z (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2001.

Idoles et images, Bellarmin (Saint-Laurent, Quebec, Canada), 1996.

Culture: Alibi ou liberté?, Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1996.

La célébration, L'Hexagone (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1997.

Figures bibliques: Des patriarches aux prophètes, Guèrin littérature (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1997.

L'amour reconnu, L'Hexagone (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1999.

Partages, Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1999.

Le silence des adieux, Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1999.

L'anniversaire, Editions Québec Amérique (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2000.

Les villes de naissance, Leméac (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2001.

L'Écrivain migrant, Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2001.

(With Sophie Jama) Les temps du nomade: Itinéraire d'un écrivain: Entretiens avec Naïm Kattan, Liber (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2005.

Je regard les femmes, Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2005.

Châteaux en Espagne, Editions Hurtubise HMH (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2006.

Avant la cérémonie, Editions du marais (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2006.

Contributor to Récits de la fête, Editions Québec Amérique (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2000. Author of "Litterature Etrangere" column for Le Devoir, 1962–. Contributor to Les lettres nouvelles, La Quinzaine Litteraire, Tamarack Review, and Canadian Literature. Director and editor of Le Bulletin du Cercle Juif, 1954–67.

Kattan's works have been translated into Arabic.

SIDELIGHTS: Naïm Kattan, whose work includes novels, short stories, and essays, is one of French Canada's premier authors. Although Kattan's native language is Arabic, he is fluent in English but writes only in French. A director of the writing and publication section of the Canada Council for more than two decades, he has been praised for his ability to capture the experience of Middle Eastern immigrants who become confused and sometimes rebellious in the more "liberated" West.

The author's first published book, a collection of critical essays entitled Le réel et le théâtral, won him considerable acclaim, and he has continued to produce essays that explore philosophical absolutes as well as the works of individual writers. In Le repos et l'oubli he explores such themes as prayer, the sabbath, treason, history, and destiny. He also examines the work of A.M. Klein, Gerard Bessette, and Northrop Frye. Reviewing Le Repos et l'oubli for the Toronto Globe and Mail, Sharon Drache pointed out "the exotic energy of oriental/occidental influences in his writing" and lauds the author's "unique depth and scope," which she believes Canada's multicultural ethos has helped to foster.

In La reprise, a collection of nineteen short stories, Kattan portrays a number of individuals, most of them Jewish immigrants from North Africa, who face various crises in their lives. The cultural tensions, particularly for the women, stem from old-country customs, such as planned marriages, that seem out of place in the less restrictive Canadian environment. Some of these women deal with their frustrations by encouraging their daughters (usually with mixed success) to achieve greater freedom than they have known themselves. Other women, such as the widow Habiba in "La conquete," transcend their traditional roles through personal effort. Habiba takes over the real estate business of her husband, runs it with greater success than he had, and rewards herself by buying new clothes, dating a variety of men, and taking Caribbean cruises.

Kattan recounts his own experiences as a Jew growing up in a Muslim-dominated society in Adieu, Babylone, published in English as Farewell Babylon: Coming of Age in Jewish Baghdad. In the years before the beginning of World War II, a thriving intellectual and literary community existed in Baghdad that included both Jews and Muslims. After the Farhoud, a 1941 attack on Baghdad's Jewish community fueled by anti-Semitism and Arab nationalism, "it becomes clear that there will be no place for Kattan in the modern Iraq, no matter how deep his roots in the region or how elegant his Arabic," observed Mary Soderstrom in the Montreal Review of Books. According to a critic in Kirkus Reviews, Farewell Babylon "functions as a loving homage to a time and community that has since virtually disappeared."

An autobiographical style characterized Kattan's early short stories and novels, but in several works he reaches beyond incidents in his own life. In La Fortune du passager, for instance, although his protagonist, Ezra Asian, a Jew, is banished from his native Iraq in Operation Ali Baba (as Kattan's own family was), the autobiographical detail ends there. Ezra entrusts his savings to Jouri Fettal, a fellow Jew, who is supposed to invest the money but instead absconds with it. Chasing Jouri across several continents, meeting and making love to a succession of women along the way, Ezra succeeds at last in collecting a token payment. He returns to Israel, meets Jouri's daughter, Tamar, falls in love, marries her, and forgives Jouri's debt. In a Globe and Mail review, Sharon Drache described Ezra's quest as "symbolic of every journey a Jew must take, especially when he does not live in his own land, and Kattan combines ideology, adventure, and passion to express it."



Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 24, 1985; May 30, 1987; March 31, 1990.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2006, review of Farewell, Babylon: Coming of Age in Jewish Baghdad, p. 134.

Library Journal, May 1, 2006, Michael Roger, review of Farewell, Babylon, p. 134.

Montreal Review of Books, fall-winter, 2005, Mary Soderstrom, review of Farewell, Babylon.


Straight.com Vancouver, http://www.straight.com/ (May 12, 2005), Brian Lynch, review of Farewell, Babylon.