Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review of Monia Mazigh's "Hope Has Two Daughters"

Novel written by Monia Mazigh
Translated by Fred A. Reed
Published by House of Anansi Press, 2017
Sold in Ottawa at Octopus Books

Reviewed by S N Smith -- Feb 9, 2017


I am a big believer in the power of fiction to convey important messages and even compel people into positive action. Fiction can communicate things that non-fiction lacks the ability to. The inward passions, motivations, fears, hopes, sorrow, disillusionment, joy, and a host of other human emotions, can be painted on the pages of a well written novel. And those emotions are experienced within a particular context, and when we understand that context we then understand where these emotions are coming from and that they don't exist in a vacuum. Not everyone, of course, reacts the same way to the events around them, and many people are riddled with a host of contradictions and shortcomings which are not always easy to decipher. Fiction, I believe, has the power to highlight this in a more effective way than non-fiction can. For non-fiction tends to stick to the facts of what we know or, if the historical imagination is exercised, it is still done so within limits, and thus we don't always get a full picture of the impact of events on the lives of people, especially individuals.

And this brings me to Monia Mazigh's latest novel, Hope has Two Daughters, a line which comes from Augustine of Hippo, also a North African, which says, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

And this sentence, I feel, captures what Mazigh seeks to achieve in her novel. 

This is a story of the awakening of a political consciousness and how when it is brought to the fore of one's thinking or world view there is no going back. The world, as we thought is was, no longer exists and it is impossible to live with the delusion despite how others seek to dissuade or discourage us. The wall -- the wall of delusion -- that has protected us, comes tumbling down and now we see what we failed to see before and are forced to move out of the safe space we have carved for ourselves. Even the fear that previously held us firmly in its grip has to let go or we become stripped of our very humanity and can not longer live with ourselves. This does not mean that the fear does not exist, only that it no longer has power over us. You will see this process taking place in the lives of the characters in Mazigh's novel. 

Two main characters -- mother and daughter -- and two major political events in Tunisia, 26 years apart, shape their respective political destinies. The scales fall from their eyes and it is as if they have emerged from Plato's cave for the very first time and now they see the light of the sun and thus can no longer re-enter that cave. It is almost like they experience some kind of release, as when Nadia, the mother, says: "But the couscous revolt had transformed me, had made me had made me a new person." (pg 200) 

This novel is also about the price that people sometimes have to pay when they speak truth to power, and that price can be very heavy and painful, and sometimes even deadly. In this novel Nadia is forced into exile from her native country while Mounir is imprisoned for 7 years. But in the backdrop of all this we know many people in Tunisia perished for speaking truth to power. 

This book will move you to tears in places. But this is not the purpose of Mazigh's writings. She wants to inform her readers of the painful choices people are forced to make and that despite the many hardships that accompany the political activist, the price is worth it because a life lived in the cause of struggle for the rights of others is a life well lived and places one on the right side of history.

Mazigh possesses the moral authority to write this novel, as anyone who knows her personal biography can attest, and thus her words are not just empty rhetoric or arm-chair sociology, but born out of personal struggle -- her own anger and courage -- and yet emerging from that suffering as a voice of freedom and passion for those who will follow after her.