Faïza Guène

Translated by Sarah Ardizzone

Published by Saqi Books 31 May 2022

224pp, paperback, £12.99

Reviewed by Alison Burns

Click here to buy this book



First published in France in 2020, this is the latest book by award-winning French Algerian  writer and director Faïza Guène, who burst onto the international literary scene at the age of 19 with her bestselling novel, Kiffe Kiffe Demain.

Infused with her signature wit and forthright tenderness, Discretion calls out for recognition of people of North African descent living in France (and especially in the notoriously rundown housing estates occupied by working-class Parisians) as human beings like anyone else.  Above all, she writes so that they can recognize themselves.

The new book explores further the limbo life of immigrants, specifically the men and women who came over to France after Algerian independence, and their children, as they try to find a place in a new world that does not see them as legitimate citizens. An ordinary family with humble roots on an Algerian farm, the six members of the Taleb household consist of Brahim, the father, a construction worker; Yamina, the modest matriarch;  her four unmarried adult children, Malika (a minor functionary), Hannah (a youth worker), Imane (who has daringly left home) and Omar (an Über driver). For Yamina, ‘remaining invisible is a matter of survival’: a lesson learned brutally in early childhood.  For her three daughters and her son, who did not grow up in rural, patriarchal, war-torn Algeria, there is more to life than domestic martyrdom or public subservience.  There is culture – fashion, films, music, TV; there is politics; there is systemic racism; there is the loss of family history.  As the younger generation work through their anger and unease – Hannah with her nightmares full of violence, Omar with his dreams of romance – Yamina comes to the understanding that she will never recapture the past, and that home is where her children are.

This is a rich novel, full of insight into cultural tropes, racial prejudice, consumerism, shameful colonial history but also infused with sheer human warmth and humour.  It is a tightrope walk that Faïza Guène carries off with grace.

Comments are closed.