Book review: “In the land of others”, by Leïla Slimani
When, years later, it is Mathilde’s turn to ask Amine’s little sister, Selma, to accept a conventional and loveless life that she does not want, Mathilde then wonders how she came to be. kind of woman: “one who encourages others to be reasonable, to give up, to choose respectability over happiness.” Is this change in Mathilde a sign of assimilation, an instinct for survival, a resigned submission? Or does Mathilde mark out her right to the Moroccan house that she adopted, exercising the right that comes from learning a foreign way of life? As Fatima Mernissi, the Moroccan feminist scholar, once said: “There is only one way to relate to the foreigner, you can shoot him, or try to dominate him by understanding his. own culture, and that’s the only way to win.
Very early on, Mathilde decides to fast for her first Ramadan, and “her husband was grateful to her for this mark of respect for their rites”. But little by little, she feels that she “becomes a shadow, a being without name, without sex, without age” and, referring to their daughter, berates Amine: “Do not tell me that you intend to raise Aïcha as a submissive woman! She is quick to point out that Moroccan nationalists themselves “make a direct link between the desire for independence and the need for women’s emancipation”. After all, she reminds him, her daughter was named in honor of Lalla Aïcha, the daughter of the Sultan, a fervent activist for women’s rights.
The fragmentary nature of the novel, like the refracted light, allows us to enter into the life of the characters multiple times. In her first letters to Irene – her “authoritarian sister who had always treated her like a child and often took pleasure in humiliating her publicly” – Mathilde hides her estrangement and her alienation, inventing adventures and exoticism to become the heroine. of its own history. At the hairdresser, his interracial relationship is subjected to merciless public ridicule (“The white woman and the black. The giantess and the dwarf”). Publicly, Amine exudes pride in having been ready to die for France, but, alone, he “would shut himself up in silence and ruminate on his cowardice, his betrayal of his people”. A white French woman four inches taller than him only makes his shame worse. Aïcha, an unsuitable Métis, is also isolated, harassed by her peers. The war exacerbates her anxieties and she finds comfort in the Christian prayers she learns at her French school.
Despite all their domestic quarrels, Amine and Mathilde maintain a real bond when it comes to the nationalist uprising that surrounds them: the attacks on the farms of the French colonizers, the formation of white defense organizations in response. “They both belonged to a camp that did not exist,” writes Slimani of their common response to violence, their “compassion for the killers and the killed”.