Kattan, Naïm

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KATTAN, NAÏM (1928– ), writer and critic. Naïm Kattan was born into a low-income family in *Baghdad, Iraq. He studied at a Jewish elementary school and then at a Muslim secondary school. His mother tongue was Arabic, and his first literary efforts were in that language. He also learned Hebrew, English, and French. In 1946, he left for Paris, where he enrolled in literature courses at the Sorbonne. In 1954, he moved to Montreal ("My third 'birthplace'… a city that contains all the others, where all nationalities, religions, and languages exist, but which needs a common tongue – French – for people to communicate with each other.") French then became his main vehicle of literary expression. Kattan published numerous books: essays, novels, plays, and short-story collections. Adieu, Babylone (1975), Les Fruits arrachés (1977), and La Fiancée promise (1983) are transposed autobiographical novels centered, respectively, in each of Kattan's three "birthplaces." In the first, he uses the name "Babylone" to designate the ancient state where Jews, originally captives, lived for more than 2,000 years, but from which virtually all eventually left. Kattan's writing is concerned with explaining differences between Oriental and Occidental societies, inter-ethnic relations, migration, and integration. He believes that the various components of his own hetero-cultural identity all have validity and importance. Kattan quickly became part of the majority Francophone cultural milieu after moving to Montreal a half-century ago. He founded the Bulletin du Cercle juif, the first French-language Jewish publication in Quebec. He was a book reviewer for the Montreal daily, Le Devoir, for many decades, often discussing books on Arabic culture. In 1967, he was named first director of the literature section of the Canada Council for the Arts. After leaving that post in 1991, he became associate professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Kattan won many distinctions. He is a member of the Order of Canada, of the Académie des lettres du Québec and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He won the Prix Québec Paris for Le Réel et le théâtral (1971). In 1989, he was named Officier de l'Ordre des arts et lettres de France, and in 1990, Chevalier national du Québec. In 2004, Kattan was given Quebec's highest literary honor, the Prix Athanase-David, for the corpus of his work. From 1994, he presided over the jury of Le Grand Prix de la Ville de Montréal.


Voix et images (Montréal) 41:1 (Fall 1985), 7–54.

[Ben-Zion Shek (2nd ed.)]