Home » Algeria » Leïla Sebbar » Shérazade (Sherazade)

Leïla Sebbar: Shérazade: 17 ans, brune, frisée, les yeux verts (Sherazade : missing, aged 17, dark curly hair, green eyes)

Shérazade is, as the title states, a 17 year old. She is also an Algerian, now living and brought up in France. As the story starts, she has run away from her family. Much of the novel is about how she and many other like her – young people from immigrant families – live in Paris. Many of them live in a squat. They do some drugs, work a while – the women often in clothes shops, though some of them seem to be involved somewhat in porn. They also get involved in petty crime, from shoplifting to more serious theft, including holding up a posh restaurant and stealing not only from the till, but also from the customers and also the food, as well as holding up a man who wants to take nude pictures of three of them.

Shérazade, like some of the other characters, is attached to her homeland and, at the end of the novel, sets out for Algeria (we don’t know if she gets there). But, despite this, she remains attached to France – she says so at the end before setting out for Algeria – and, like many of her peers, likes French culture (fast food, fashionable clothes, modern music (though, at the end she is listening to Verdi) and the other comforts of the West). Where Sebbar succeeds in this novel is making all the characters thoroughly sympathetic. Shérazade is likeable, intelligent and independent. She has a boyfriend – Julien, a pied noir – who sees her, follows her, meets her, has a relationship with her, is going to put her in a film he is making and then loses her. Her main attraction to him seems to be the amenities he supplies – interesting food (kiwi fruit!), a bath and a phone – though, at the end, when she leaves, she leaves several notes saying that she loves him. At the end, her companion is blown to bits and she escapes, with the police looking for her but we are sure that she will survive.

Publishing history

First published in French by Stock 1982
First published in English by Quartet Books 1991
Translated by Dorothy S Blair