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Le pays des autres” (Other People’s Country) by Leïla Slimani

Algeria was not the only French colony in North Africa……

Read this fresco-in-words depiction of Morocco in the ten years up to independence in 1956: “Le pays des autres” (Other People’s Country) by Leïla Slimani.

2022 marks 60 years on from Algeria’s independence from France. Tunisia and Morocco were also French colonies although their independence stories attract less attention. Set in Morocco, “Le pays des autres” (Other People’s Country) by Leïla Slimani fills some of this gap.

However, this novel is much more than a Moroccan-style “battle of Algiers”, a conflict between heroic freedom fighters and colonial oppressors. Unusually, a French woman trying to build a life in Morocco after World War II is at its centre; around her whirl all the aspects of Morocco which discomfort everyone living in that country up to independence in 1956: the Moroccan population, the French colonisers, the soldiers, the farmers, the exiles from Europe – and women looking for their own freedom.

The hub is a farm near Meknès, where Mathilde, a young French woman from Alsace moves to live with her Moroccan husband, whom she met as a soldier in France. The scene is set for the struggles to survive: in a “mixed” relationship where Mathilde is not accepted fully either by Moroccans or French; on unforgiving, rocky farmland in its harsh climate; through the fighting for independence. Alongside all this is the position of both French and Moroccan women who live “in the country of men” and fight for their sexual independence. Mathilde’s French-Moroccan children search for their own identity vacillating between the solidity of the Catholic boarding-school and their fascination with the traditions of their village neighbours.

(Leïla Slimani, born 1981, is a Franco-Moroccan writer and journalist. She is also a French diplomat in her capacity as the personal representative of the French president Emmanuel Macron to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. In 2016 she was awarded the Prix Goncourt for her novel “Chanson Douce”.)