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Roman Ruins, Tunisia
Ampitheatre, El Djem. Coutesy of flickr.com. Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis.
(You can't go to Tunsia with Proffessor Roger Allen wihtout reading some novels.)
Return to Dar Al-Basha by
Publication Date: 2006
Written by renowned Tunisian author Hassan Nasr, Return to Dar al-Basha is a coming-of-age novel describing a boy's Tunisian childhood during the era of nationalist resistance against French colonial rule. Taken from his happy home with his mother, Murtada is raised in his father's house. This section provides an interesting and candid view on Arab patriarchy. Physically abused and emotionally neglected, he grows up into a perpetual wanderer. Questioning his inability to set down roots, he returns to his mother’s house in Tunis, which he finds in ruins from neglect and urban renewal. Nasr here highlights the loss of traditional values and spaces in Tunisian society to the ravages of globalization and greed. Murtada's argument with a cousin about restoring the ancestral home throws into relief both the positive and negative aspects of "the old ways". Murtada subsequently roams the streets of Tunis, reminisces about his childhood introduction to Islamic mysticism and Sufism, recalls French atrocities during the nationalist agitation, and braces himself to see his father again. We can see in this an allegory for Murtada’s rejection of the cosmopolitan, “European” life for his Arab Muslim roots. Originally published in Arabic in 1994. Translated by William M. Hutchins.
Sleepless Nights by
Publication Date: 1991
This is a collection of short stories and sketches about life in the city of Tunis in the first half of the 20th century, during the years of French control. Translated by William Granara.
The Pillar of Salt by
Publication Date: 1992
Originally published in 1955, The Pillar of Salt is a semi-autobiographical novel about a boy growing up in French colonized Tunisia. To gain access to privileged French society on the eve of World War II, he must reject his many identities – Jew, Arab, and African, and forget his past to embrace his European future. This is the fate of the colonized who seeks to join the colonizers. Because of its unique history as the home to numerous civilizations, Hobson’s choice of multiple identities and heritages haunts modern Tunisian culture. This novel stands as a metaphor for the dilemma of a nation. Albert Memmi is a Tunisian Jew now living in France.
Tremor of Forgery by
Publication Date: 1994
The Tremor of Forgery is considered by many to be Patricia Highsmith's finest novel. Set in Tunisia in the mid-1960s, it is the story of Howard Ingham, an American writer who has come to Tunisia to gather material for a movie too sordid to be set in America. Ingham is cool towards Ina, the girlfriend he left behind in New York, but his feelings start to change when she doesn't answer his increasingly aggravated letters, and John Castlewood, the filmmaker who hired Ingham, fails to show in Tunisia. Amid the tea shops and alleys of the souk, the sun-blasted architecture, the withering heat, this novel casts Tunisia in its African, Arab/Muslim guise. It is a foreign place in which the “European” (i.e., Ingham) is cut loose physically, morally, and culturally; so that even the beaches and hotels where the international tourists play are alien to him. But Ingham is playing with fire, and there is little chance he will escape unscathed. Will he do the “right” (i.e., European) thing, or give in to his primitive, Tunisian side. Originally published in 1969.
The African Quest: Archeological Mysteries No. 5 by
Publication Date: 2002
This is a fun book for those who like mysteries, but one which surprisingly also provides interesting and rather factual insights into modern Tunisia. It is one in a series by the author about an antique dealer, Lara McLintoch. In The African Quest, she is leading a group of tourists through the souks, mosques and ruins of Tunisia. A routine trip? Hardly. When one of her group dies in the hotel pool and another in a fire, she senses that there is more to Tunisia than she thought, and it is dangerous.
Prayer Hall in Mosque of Uqba
Courtesy of flickr.com. Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis
Bibliographers and Penn Alumni Travel
FILM: "Satin Rouge" Written & Directed by Raja Amari, 2001
In this sumptuous, sensual film from Tunisia an attractive widow just edging into middle age begins to explore a new side of her personality and finds renewal. After the death of her husband, Lilia (Hiam Abbass) finds herself at a loss for what to do with her life. Her teenage daughter, Salma is just old enough to be developing a life of her own, and is too busy with school and her friends to spend much time with her mother. Lilia fills the days by watching television and obsessively cleaning her home, but she feels lonely and out of sorts. Lilia begins to suspect that Salma is dating an older man, and one evening, after Salma's dancing class, she spies her leaving with a musician named Chokri . Lilia discovers that Chokri performs at a nightclub featuring a troupe of belly dancers, and she goes to the club one night to confront him. Lilia is initially embarrassed by the boisterous atmosphere of the cabaret and the scanty dress of the dancers, but she soon finds herself drawn into the devil-may-care attitude of the patrons and performers. Lilia also finds herself becoming fascinated with belly dancing, and begins learning how to perform the sensuous dances herself; in time, she becomes a performer at the club and finds herself drawn into a relationship with Chokri. Satin Rouge was Ms Amari’s first feature film, and skillfully explores the spaces in Tunisian society available for women to express themselves publically, and emerge as capable, confident individuals.
FILM: "Halfaouine, Boy of the Terraces" Written & Directed by Ferid Boughedir, 1990
A coming-of-age comedy/drama set in the poor Halfaouine neighborhood of Tunis, twelve-year-old Noura, finely played by the director’s nephew, is an impressionable boy who must learn to reconcile two conflicting worlds - the loving world of Muslim women and the vastly different, harsher world of men. In his current state Noura is divided between these two worlds: that of men on the streets, and the largely hidden, domestic life of women. He can still share the hammam, or public bath with the women, but not for much longer. His oncoming puberty and budding sexuality mean he is almost ready to make the transition to adult male life, an event he fears. Boughedir paints a happy picture of Tunisian life and illustrates the subtle and complex relationships between men and women in Tunisia.
Eyewitness Travel Guides Tunisia by
Publication Date: 2011
Fortunately (or unfortunately) there are a number of good travel guides available for Tunisia—the Michelin Neos Guide; the Rough Guide; the Insight Guide; and finally, the most recently published guide, the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide.
The Rough Guide and the Michelin Guide get very detailed about sites and specific places to visit, but furnish only few pictures. The Insight and DK Eyewitness guides, both give a good overview about Tunisia’s culture, customs, and history, cover where to go, stay and eat, and also include copious pictures. Indeed, the motto of the series of DK Eyewitness Travel Guides is “The guides that show you what others only tell you.” Since the DK Eyewitness Guide is also the newest, it is my pick of the field.
Tunisia since the Arab Conquest by
Publication Date: 2013
This comprehensive history of Tunisia covers an essential period in the country's development, from the Arab conquest of the seventh century to the Jasmine Revolution and the fall of Ben Ali's regime in 2010. "Tunisia since the Arab Conquest" describes the evolution of the Tunisian state, its place in the Mediterranean basin and its contacts with the civilizations of that region. Beginning with the Arab conquest of AD 648-669, Dr. Jacob Abadi analyses the crucial events and various dynasties that shaped the country's history in the Middle Ages. This is one of the few books available in English to cover the medieval period well. This is followed by a discussion of the Ottoman conquest and the impact of the European competition in the Mediterranean on the development of the Tunisian state. As befits the major event in Tunisian history, the book provides thorough coverage of the French conquest and Protectorate and their impact on the country's development. It discusses Franco - Tunisian relations in a vivid manner, and explores the impact of the WWI and WWII on the country. Out of the crucible of WWII come the Tunisian nationalist movement and the country's struggle for independence. These are well covered in the book, which includes an in-depth assessment of the political impact of the main personalities who played a role in that movement. Tunisia's political and cultural relations with France and the methods by which the country obtained its independence are discussed in great detail. The narrative continues with an analysis of the political, social, economic and cultural developments in Tunisia since its independence, including an in-depth analysis of the country's achievements and failures under the regimes of Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali. Based on primary and secondary sources in Arabic, French, Italian, Hebrew and English this book will provide the reader with a comprehensive history of the country in one volume. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the formative years of the Tunisian state, as well as the political developments, which took place after its independence. If there is a criticism to level at this book, it’s that it’s too detailed.
A History of Modern Tunisia by
Publication Date: 2014
After providing a short overview of the country in the years preceding the inauguration of a French protectorate in 1881, Perkins’ book examines the impact of colonialism on Tunisia, with particular attention to how it spurred the evolution of a nationalist movement that secured the termination of the protectorate in 1956. Perkins’ analysis of the first three decades of independence, during which the leaders of the anti-colonial struggle consolidated political power, formulated a series of economic strategies, and promoted a social and cultural agenda calculated to modernize both state and society, assesses the challenges that they faced and the degree of success they achieved. The second edition of "A History of Modern Tunisia" is updated with a new chapter which carries the history of this country from 2004 to the present, with particular emphasis on the Jasmine Revolution or the Tunisian revolution of 2011 - the first critical event of that year's Arab Spring and the inspiration for similar populist movements across the Arab world.
The Seven Martyrs Memorial
Courtesy of flikr.com. Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis.
Rome in Africa by
Publication Date: 1993
Susan Raven’s work has become the standard text for the study of the Roman Empire in Africa. The Romans were only one of the succession of peoples to occupy Tunisia since ancient times, but they were the one that stayed longest and had the most impact on the region’s civilization. Indeed, Tunisia became an important and much valued part of the empire, serving as the granary for the entire, far-flung expanse of Rome’s dominions. This book has been around for a long time, but the 1993 3rd edition was thoroughly revised to incorporate new research, such as the finds from the continuing excavations of Carthage. In short, this is the book you want with you as you view the incredibly well preserved Roman ruins of Tunisia.
Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by
Publication Date: 2012
This book chronicles the history of Rome’s nemesis in North Africa and the Mediterranean basin, the empire of Carthage. It traces Carthage’s beginnings among the Phoenician settlements of Lebanon; the growth of its empire and the rise of its civilization. Of course, the book climaxes with Carthage’s inevitable and prolonged clash with Rome. During these troubled decades, the Carthaginians sometimes defeated their foes, but the Romans proved implacable enemies, who had the strength to endure individual setbacks, and triumphed in the end. Richard Miles has skillfully fused the works of ancient historians such as Polybius and Livy, a wide range of modern studies and recent archaeological research to create a convincing and enthralling historical narrative, which reads like a novel.
World War II History
An Army at Dawn: The War on North Africa, 1942-1943 by
Publication Date: 2007
This book is a special selection for military buffs. It is the first volume of the author’s Liberation Trilogy, and recounts the first sally of American forces into the European theater of war in WWII. From the amphibious landings in Morocco to the fight against the Vichy French in Algeria to the final climatic campaign against the Afrika Korps in Tunisia, An Army at Dawn shows the American army learning the lessons of modern coalition warfare. There are continuous “spats” between American and British generals, and plenty of rancor within the two armies themselves. So much so, it seems sometimes that the Allies are too busy fighting each other to bother with the Axis. The Americans under Patton also learn the modern usage of tanks and how to fight a combined arms battle. But it is the Tunisian campaign that crowns this book with the battle of Kasserine Pass as the climax thereof. After the bruising losses dealt the German army, Joseph Goebbels was moved to proclaim Tunisia “a second Stalingrad”. There are no burnt out tanks left littered about the Tunisian landscape, but with this book you’ll know. There they were and how they got there. Atkinson is a Pullitzer Prize winning journalist and editor.
Among the Righteous: Lost Stories From the Holocaust's Long Reach Into Arab Lands by
Publication Date: 2007
This book is a welcome addition to the literature and research on North Africa. Satloff is an American scholar who is director of the think-tank, The Washington Institute. His research is extensive and in "Among the Righteous" he shares the stories of many Arabs, including Tunisians, who sheltered and assisted the Jews against the Nazis. History often neglects the fact that the Nazi troops had a presence in North Africa during World War II, as did their abhorrent Final Solution. Satloff brings his extensive background in the area, including his knowledge of French, Hebrew and Arabic sources allowing the reader to learn of acts of heroism that have previously remain unpublished. "Among the Righteous" provides us with insight into the Tunisians and their society that we can find nowhere else.