22-year-old Faïza Guène (pronounced Fie-ee-za Gen - first syllable rhymes
with pie) attends the University of St. Denis where she is a sociology major, and has just
completed her first short film. The child of Algerian immigrants, she was
born in France and grew up in
the public housing projects of Pantin, a suburb North-East of Paris. For
several years before going to university she was part of a publicly financed
neighborhood film project writing scripts for TV. She started writing
Kiffe Kiffe when she was about seventeen, writing in longhand in cafes and
on her parents' bed in their two-bed apartment that she shares with her parents
and two siblings. She describes her mother as "a strong character who
always sacrificed everything for the family," and her father, a retired
construction worker, as "quiet but wise". She showed the first pages of
the book to one of the film project advisors, who in turn showed it to his
sister, an editor at Hachette - who paid Faiza an advance of $900. Faiza
says, "I didn't write this book thinking it would be published - I always had
this image of a writer as someone who always had to struggle". She gave the
advance money to her mother, "because what else would I do with it?"
At an interview at a community youth center in 2004 Faiza said, "Here in the suburbs everyone fantasizes about the lives of Parisians and imagines they all have good jobs and lots of money ... and on the other side, they imagine that we are all wild animals in zoos." She describes Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow as a necessary corrective, "I was sick and tired of hearing only black stories about the suburbs, so I wrote about the trivial, daily things that happen here. It's important to show that the suburbs are not only about cars that are set on fire, or girls who get gang-raped in basements."
Despite being born and brought up in France, she says that she struggles with her own identity, "We speak Arabic and watch Algerian satellite and listen to Algerian music at home .... even what I have on my plate is Algerian. You can't easily just tell yourself one day you're French. You're betrayed by your face, your hair. It takes time".
Kiffe Kiffe Demain was published in France in 2004, when she was 19; it was published in English this summer (as a paperback original) having been translated from French into English by Sarah Adams, who provides a useful glossary of Arabic and French slang for those words that defy direct translation.
This article is from the October 5, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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