Sebbar, Leila (1941–)

views updated

Sebbar, Leila

Leila Sebbar is an Algerian-French novelist and essayist.


Sebbar was born 9 November 1941 in Aflou, Algeria, to a French mother and an Algerian father. Both were teachers. She moved to France at age seventeen, and still lives in Paris. She writes in French.


Name: Leila Sebbar

Birth: 1941, Aflou, Algeria

Nationality: French, Algerian


  • 1980: Publishes Shérazade, 17 ans, brune, frisée, les yeux verts
  • 1985: Les carnets de Shérazade
  • 1986: Lettres Parisiennes, autopsie de l'exil
  • 1997: Une enfance algérienne
  • 2001: Une enfance outremer
  • 2007: Métro, Instantanés and Le Ravin de la femme


Sebbar deals with a variety of topics, and either adopts a purely fictional approach or uses psychology to make her point. Many of Sebbar's novels express the frustrations of the Beur, the second generation of Maghribi (North African) youth who were born and raised in France and who have not yet integrated into French society. Her book Parle mon fils, parle à ta mère (1984; Talk son, talk to your mother), illustrates the absence of dialogue between two generations who do not speak the same language.

The events of several novels center around a young woman called Shérazade, a name very close to Scheherazade, the heroine of the classic collection of Arabian tales, the Thousand and One Nights. Shérazade is the protagonist of three novels: Shérazade, 17 ans, brune, frisée, les yeux verts (1980; Shérazade, 17, brunette, curly hair, and green eyes); Les carnets de Shérazade (1985; Shérazade's notes); and Le fou de Shérazade (1991; Crazy about Shérazade). Sebbar uses the implicit connection between Shérazade and Scheherazade to establish the contrast between the old and the new generations of Algerian women, drawing a nonconventional image of the female Beur.

Other themes in Sebbar's writings are the problems of emigration and the torments of life in exile. The latter is central to Lettres Parisiennes, autopsie de l'exil (1986; Parisian letters, the autopsy of exile), a correspondence with Canadian novelist and essay writer Nancy Huston. Sebbar's double affiliation to Algeria and France is evoked in two short essays: "They Kill Teachers," published in a collection of autobiographical narratives, Une enfance algérienne (1997; An Algerian childhood), and "D'abord, ce n'est pas la guerre" (Primarily, it is not war), in Une enfance outremer (2001; A childhood overseas). Her recent works include Métro, Instantanés (2007) and Le Ravin de la femme sauvage (2007).


Sebbar is well known internationally as a major Francophone Arab writer, noted for her explorations of multiculturalism.


Leila Sebbar is still a prolific writer, and it is too soon to assess her ultimate legacy.


Bamia, Aida. "The North African Novel: Achievements and Prospects." In Mundus Arabicus, vol. 5, edited by Issa Boullata. Cambridge, MA: Dar Mahjar, 1992.

Mortimer, Mildred, ed. Maghrebian Mosaic. Boulder, CO, and London: Lynne Rienner, 2001.

                                       Aida A. Bamia

                        updated by Michael R. Fischbach