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(cover: Threshold, 2010 by Jean Hearst)
The Pillar of Salt by Albert Memmi (with a new introduction by the author and a preface by Albert Camus; translated from the French by Edouard Roditi; 114,000 words)
When The Pillar of Salt was first published in 1953, it caused a scandal in Tunis. Acclaimed sociologist Albert Memmi, the son of poor Jewish parents who lived at the edge of the equally poor Jewish and Muslim quarters, wrote candidly about the life of Tunisia’s small Jewish community and the failings of the tiny local bourgeoisie, “which thought itself opulent but was only ridiculous.” Memmi was no less critical of his Muslim fellow citizens or of the various European colonialists in his vicinity. “The Pillar of Salt reads like a general indictment,” Memmi writes in a new introduction to this 2013 eBook edition.
This is an unusual man’s coming of age story and a document about a community that has now all but disappeared.
“The grave torment of the truly homeless is the theme of Albert Memmi's mature, thoughtful book... His father an Italian Jew, his mother a Berber, Benillouche struggles on the tattered fringe of the Tunisian ghetto for the very air he breathes... Beneath this account of privation, there is a more deeply harrowing realization on the part of the protagonist that he belongs nowhere.” — New York Times
“In the Celine-Sartre-Camus tradition of the contemporary French novel of despair, this autobiographical narrative has maturity, stylistic grace, and purpose... A thoughtful, perceptive work.” — Library Journal
“Alexandre Mordekhai Benillouche, Memmi’s young hero and narrator, is a Jewish native of French-colonized Tunisia ... Memmi’s ... semiautobiographical novel powerfully distinguishes itself through its unblinking examination of the contradictions that thwart even Alexandre’s most altruistic ambitions. After volunteering to work in a labor camp during World War II, Alexandre discovers that the class and ethnic distinctions haunting him continued within the camp. Ultimately, only exile and fiction writing — ‘mastering ... life by recreating it’ — can avert despair.” — Publishers Weekly
“Told with clarity of vision, a passionate sense of justice, and a warm heart.” — New York Herald Tribune