Sebbar, Leïla 1941-

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Sebbar, Leïla 1941-


Born November 19, 1941, in Aflou, Algeria; daughter of Mohamed and Renée Sebbar-Bordas; married Dominique Pignon, September, 1967; children: two. Ethnicity: "Father Algerian, mother French." Education: Received Litt.D., 1973.


Home—Paris, France.




Prix Kateb Yacine, for Le Silence des rives; named Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, 2005; named Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur, 2006.


On tue les petites filles (essays; title means "Killing the Little Girls"), Stock (Paris, France), 1978.

Le pédophile et la maman: L'amour des enfants (essays; title means "The Pedophile and the Mother"), Stock (Paris, France), 1980.

Fatima; ou, Les algériennes au square (novel; title means "Fatima; or, The Algerian Women in the Park"), Stock (Paris, France), 1981.

(Author of text) Des femmes dans la maison, anatomie de la vie domestique (photograph album; title means "Women at Home: Anatomy of Domestic Life"), photographs by Domenica Doan, Luce Penot, and Domenica Pujebet, Nathan (Paris, France), 1981.

Shérazade, 17 ans, brune, frisée, les yeux verts (novel), Stock (Paris, France), 1982, translation by Dorothy S. Blair published as Sherazade, Quartet (London, England), 1999.

Parle mon fils, parle à ta mère (novel; title means "Speak My Son, Speak to Your Mother"), Stock (Paris, France), 1984, reprinted, Thierry Magnier (Paris, France), 2006.

Le chinois vert d'Afrique (novel; title means "The Green Chinese Boy from Africa"), Stock (Paris, France), 1984, reprinted, Eden (Paris, France), 2002.

Les carnets de Shérazade (novel; title means "The Notebooks of Shérazade"), Stock (Paris, France), 1985.

(With Nancy Huston) Lettres parisiennes: Autopsie de l'exil (correspondence; title means "Parisian Letters: Autopsy of Exile"), Bernard Barrault (Paris, France), 1986.

Ismaël (juvenile fiction), illustrated by Tito, Bayard Presse, 1986.

J.H. cherche âme sæur (novel; title means "Y.M. Looking for Soul Mate"), Stock (Paris, France), 1987.

Paris-Dakar, autres nouvelles, Souffles, 1987.

Génération Métisse (photograph album; title means "A Hybrid Generation"), photographs by Amadou Gaye, Syros (Paris, France), 1988.

Voies de pères, voix de filles, Maren Sell et Cie, 1988.

La négresse à l'enfant (short stories; title means "Negress with a Child"), Syros (Paris, France), 1990.

Les meilleures nouvelles de l'année 89-90, Syros (Paris, France), 1990.

Femmes des hauts'plateaux, Algérie 1960 (photograph album), photographs by Marc Caranger, 1990.

Le fou de Shérazade (novel; title means "Sherazade's Fool"), Stock (Paris, France), 1991.

Un siècle de nouvelles franco-maghrébines, Minerve, 1992.

Nouvelles de la guerre d'Algérie, trente ans après, Le Monde (Paris, France), 1992.

Marseille, Marseilles (photograph album), photographs by Yves Jeanmougin, Parenthéses, 1992.

Le silence des rives (novel), Stock (Paris, France), 1993, translation by Mildred Mortimer published as Silence on the Shores, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2000.

(With Nancy Huston) Une enfance d'ailleurs (title means "A Childhood from Elsewhere"), Belfond (Paris, France), 1993.

Mémoire de Kabylie: Scènes de la vie traditionnelle, 1937-1939 (title means "Memories from Kabylia: Scenes of Traditional Life, 1937-1939"), preface by Camille-Lacoste-Dujardin, Edisud (Aix-en-Provence, France), 1994.

Les yeux de ma mère (theater piece), France-Culture, 1994.

Algérie, Le Fennec (Casablanca, Morocco), 1995.

La jeune fille au balcon (short stories; title means "Maid at Her Balcony"), Seuil (Paris, France), 1996.

Le baiser (short stories; title means "The Kiss"), Hachette Littérature (Paris, France), 1997.

(Editor) Une enfance algérienne (essays), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1997, translation by Marjolijn de Jager published as An Algerian Childhood: A Collection of Autobiographical Narratives, foreword by Anne Donadey, Ruminator Books (St. Paul, MN), 2001.

J'étais enfant en Algérie, Alger. Juin 1962 (juvenile), Éditions du Sorbier (Paris, France), 1997.

Val-Nord, fragments de banlieue (photograph album), photographs by Gilles Larvor, Au Nom de la Mémoire (Paris, France), 1998.

Soldats (short stories; title means "Soldiers"), Seuil (Paris, France), 1999.

La Seine était rouge, Paris Octobre 1961 (novel; title means "The Seine Was Red, Paris October 1961"), Thierry Magnier (Paris, France), 1999.

Une enfance outremer (title means "A Childhood Overseas"), Seuil (Paris, France), 2001.

(With Jean-Michel Belorgey) Femmes d'Afrique du Nord, cartes postales 1885-1930 (title means "North African Women, Postcards, 1885-1930"), Bleu Autour (Saint-Porçain-sur-Sioule, France), 2002, published with material by Christelle Taraud, 2006.

Il dort, vivre par terre (photograph album), photographs by Philippe Castetbon, Tirésias, 2002.

Marguerite (novel), Eden (Paris, France), 2002.

Je ne parle pas la langue de mon père (novel), Julliard (Paris, France), 2003.

Sept filles (short stories), Thierry Magnier (Paris, France), 2003.

Journal intime et politique, Editions de l'Aube, 2003.

Les algériens au café, Al Manar (Neuilly, France), 2003.

Mes algéries en France (travel book), Bleu Autour (Saint-Porçain-sur-Sioule, France), 2004.

Mes algéries (short stories), Dar el gharb (Oran, Algeria), 2004.

Journal de mes algéries en France (travel book), Bleu Autour (Saint-Porçain-sur-Sioule, France), 2005.

Isabelle l'algérien, Un portrait d'Isabelle Eberhardt (short stories), Al Manar (Neuilly, France), 2005.

Algériens, frères de sang, Jean Sénac, Lieux de mémoire (photograph album), photographs by Yves Jeanmougin, Métamorphoses (Marseilles, France), 2005.

Zizou l'algérien (short stories), Editions ANEP (Algiers, Algeria), 2005.

Les femmes au bain (novel), Bleu Autour (Saint-Porçain-sur-Sioule, France), 2006.

L'habit vert (short stories), Thierry Magnier (Paris, France), 2006.

Le ravin de la femme sauvage (short stories), Thierry Magnier (Paris, France), 2007.

Métro: Instantanes (short stories), Du Rocher (France), 2007.

Mon père, Chèvre-feuille Étoilée (Montpellier, France), 2007.

C'était leur France, en Algérie avant l'indépendance, Gallimard (Paris, France), 2007.

Le peintre et son modèle, photographs by Joël Leick, Al Manar (Neuilly, France), 2007.

Vagabond, Bleu Autour (Saint-Porçain-sur-Sioule, France), 2008.

Louisa, Bleu Autour (Saint-Porçain-sur-Sioule, France), 2008.

La blanche et la noire, Bleu Autour (Saint-Porçain-sur-Sioule, France), 2008.

Contributor to periodicals, including Les Temps Modernes, Sans Frontière, Dédale, Sud/Nord, Panoramiques, Le Magazine Littéraire, and Europe.

Sebbar's works have been translated into Italian, German, English, Catalan, and Dutch.


Leïla Sebbar is an Algerian-born French writer whose publications include novels describing the experiences of North African women living in France. "Leïla Sebbar's writing has focused on the Beurs, North Africans born in France of immigrant parents, a generation of young people in cultural conflict with France and the Maghreb," wrote Mildren Mortimer in French Review. "Her protagonists, often runaway youths escaping Maghrebian families they find too restrictive, are in search of a new and yet elusive identity." (It should be noted that the word "Beur" is a slang term for a descendant of immigrants of North African origin living in France and can sometimes be interpreted as a derogatory comment, depending on who uses it and how it is meant.)

Fatima; ou, Les algériennes au square is a novel about an illiterate North African immigrant and her friendships with similar women in suburban France. Shérazade, 17 ans, brune, frisée, les yeux verts relates the story of an Algerian teenager who flees to Paris and befriends other immigrants, including a prostitute and a political extremist. "For Sherazade and her squatmates," wrote Times Literary Supplement reviewer Claudia Pugh-Thomas, "Paris is a mere backdrop to their disjointed lives." Hédi Abdel-Jaouad, writing in World Literature Today, called Shérazade "a highly readable novel" and added that it "establishes … a new esthetic and literary trend in Maghrebine literature of French expression."

Sebbar chronicled Sherazade's experiences in further novels, including Les carnets de Shérazade, wherein Sherazade travels across France, and Le fou de Shérazade, in which she finds danger while touring the Middle East. In Le fou de Shérazade, Sherazade runs afoul of Lebanese soldiers who suspect her of espionage and consequently place her in captivity, whereupon she suffers starvation and physical abuse. Mildred Mortimer, writing in French Review, observed that Sebbar's heroine "emerges unscathed from captivity, prepared to explore new worlds in her continuing quest for identity and empowerment." Mortimer deemed Le fou de Shérazade a "well-crafted, intriguing novel of exile and nomadism."

Among Sebbar's other novels is J.H. cherche âme sæur, in which a Beur youth lands in prison and becomes the cellmate of a young man whose lover led him into crime. Upon release from prison, the Beur searches for his former cellmate's lover. Upon finding her, though, he becomes embroiled in another criminal scheme. "The psychological and sociological dimensions of [J.H. cherche âme sæur] are quite interesting," wrote Mortimer. "As a study of alienation among Beur and French youth, this novel is very well crafted." Evelyn Uhrhan Irving noted in World Literature Today that "Sebbar has created a story which could take place anywhere and thus has shifted from a focus on her native Algerian women to women in general. [J.H. cherche âme sæur] holds one's attention and provides entertaining, if not deeply philosophical reading."

Sebbar is also the author of La négresse à l'enfant, a volume of short stories on the immigrant experience in France. "For the most part the stories are poignant," Charlotte H. Bruner wrote in World Literature Today. "Their interest lies not in the action but in the interplay of cultures and traditions they depict." She added that Sebbar "skillfully creates vignettes wherein the First World and Third World exist together but do not blend with each other."

Silence on the Shores is a short novel (less than one hundred pages) that treats substantial themes, as an Algerian immigrant lies dying, alone and far from home. He had promised his mother that he would return to his North African homeland after making his fortune in France, but it never happened. Now he muses on life, exile, and loneliness, with no other Muslim by his side to hold his hand and perform the death rituals of his people. Written in a stream-of-consciousness format that frequently appears in Sebbar's writings, wrote Booklist contributor Brendan Dowling, Silence on the Shores "steadily gathers momentum" until, "by the end, the impact of this man's life is devastatingly felt by the reader."

Sebbar's short-story collections continue to explore the lives of Algerian exiles in France, in particular the lives of women. Sept filles presents seven stories of women whose tireless search for freedom from a restrictive culture consumes their lives, sometimes literally. These are the women who can never fit in, and who often spend their days on the margins of society, alienated even from their own kind. It was dedicated to a teenage girl who lost her life to violence in 2002. Métro: Instantanes is another collection, not so much of full-fledged short stories but of sixty-seven vignettes of life and people of all kinds, brought together by the Paris subway system. The underground is presented as a place where no one seems ordinary and no one seems strange; everyone coexists, yet no one belongs.

An Algerian Childhood: A Collection of Autobiographical Narratives, edited by Sebbar, who also contributed an essay, represents a wide variety of view on the topics that dominate Sebbar's writings. French-speaking men and women, French and Algerians, practitioners of many religions, and members of varied social classes and cultural traditions come together in this collection to offer their stories of childhood in Algeria after its hard-won independence from France in 1962. It was a violent and painful time for all, the narratives reveal, no matter how well the young witnesses were able to conceal their fear and repulsion. An Algerian Childhood is not an easy read, according to Booklist reviewer Dan Winslow, but a Publishers Weekly contributor described the collection as a "powerful … wonderful meditation on postcolonial Algeria."



Booklist, January 1, 2001, Brendan Dowling, review of Silence on the Shores, p. 921; April 15, 2001, Dan Winslow, review of An Algerian Childhood: A Collection of Autobiographical Narratives, p. 1526.

French Forum, winter, 2004, Catherine Dana, "Les enfants Antigone," p. 113.

French Review, December, 1988, Mildred Mortimer, review of J.H. cherche âme sæur, pp. 369-370; March, 1992, review of Le fou de Shérazade, pp. 686-687.

Library Journal, January 1, 2001, Ellen Flexman, review of Silence on the Shores, p. 157.

Publishers Weekly, April 2, 2001, review of An Algerian Childhood, p. 52.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2001, Valerie Orlando, review of Silence on the Shores, p. 162.

Times Literary Supplement, December 31, 1999, Claudia Pugh-Thomas, review of Sherazade, p. 19.

World Literature Today, fall, 1983, Hédi Abdel-Jaouad, review of Shérazade, 17 ans, frisée, les yeux verts, p. 676; fall, 1988, Evelyn Uhrhan Irving, review of J.H. cherche âme sæur, p. 711; spring, 1991, Charlotte H. Bruner, review of La négresse à l'enfant, pp. 347-348; summer-autumn, 2001, Sarah Davies Cordova, review of Silence on the Shores, p. 114; January-April, 2005, Leonard R. Koos, review of Sept filles, p. 81; November-December, 2007, Leonard R. Koos, review of Métro: Instantanes, p. 64.


Leïla Sebbar Home Page, (April 28, 2008).

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