We discuss the classic 1953 novel by the Jewish Tunisian Francophone writer Albert Memmi, who died this year. This sharp and beautiful book is many things: a coming of age story, an account of colonialism, and a World War II novel. Its driven, unhappy narrator breaks with his community and family in search of a new identity but is disappointed again and again. Like Lot’s wife in the Bible, he cannot help looking back on the past he rejects. He asks: “is it possible for me to survive my contemplation of myself?”
The Pillar of Salt, translated from the French by Edouard Roditi, is available as an e-book. Memmi also wrote The Colonizer and The Colonized, an account of Tunisia’s first year of independence, Tunisie, An I and numerous other books.
We compared the book to Driss Chraibi’s The Simple Past, another post-colonial novel narrated by a very angry young man, which we dedicated a whole other episode to.
In the LRB, Adam Shatz recently wrote a wonderful essay discussing Memmi’s writings, political philosophy, and contradictions.