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Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor
229B Mc Micken Hall
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of Cincinnati
ML 210069
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069
Office # (513) 556-0834
Fax # (513) 556-5960

Comparative Literature, Good & Evil

Summer 1999

Mehdi Charef, Tea in the Harem

For Leïla Sebbar, the "Beur" generation is a generation at drift (à la dérive). In a letter to Nancy Huston published as Lettres parisiennes: Autopsie de líexil ("Parisian Letter. An Autopsy of Exile"), Sebbar writes that the "Beurs" "auront, avec la France, une histoire díamour mêlée de haine, perverse et souvent meurtrière. Ils ne sont pas vraiment de leur pays natal, la France, ni du pays natal de leur père et mère" [The "Beurs" have a history with France of love mixed with hate, perverse and frequently murderous. They are not truly of their native country, France, nor are they of the birth country of their father and mother] (60).

For Mehdi Charef, whose Tea in the harem was one of the first books by a "Beur" writer in France, la dérive ("drift") not only captures the rootlessness of the young generation, but also resists the stasis, immotility and paralysis of the banlieues: "The children grow up as part of the cement and the concrete. They grow up and they begin to take on the characteristics of concrete: they're dry and cold and hard, too all appearances indestructible -- but they've got hidden cracks" (50-51) ["Dans le béton, quíils poussent, les enfants. Ils grandissent et lui ressemblent, à ce béton sec et froid. Ils sont secs et froids aussi, durs, apparemment indestructibles, mais il y a aussi des fissures dans le béton" (62)].

Writing Topic :

Analyze the above passage from Tea in the harem. Offer an interpretation of this passage based on other incidents in the book -- for example, Majid's protective role over his father; Majid and Pat's pimping of Solange; the gang's self-destruction, their violent outbursts, their marginalization socially, etc. Why does Charef compare them to the concrete? How are these marginal characters part of the concrete jungle? What does this statement mean? How do the characters in Tea compare to Kassovitzís characters (Sayid, Vinz and Hubert) in Hate ?

Discussion Questions:

What role does ethnicity play in the gang affiliation in Tea in the Harem? What role does class and socioeconomic level play in the gang affiliation?

Contrast the role of men and the role of women in the novel? What do the gender differences in the novel reveal about the culture of the streets or the banlieues ?

How is Majid trapped between two cultures, two races, two languages? How are the others (Pat, Bengston, Balou, Josette, Solange) trapped? What sort of tensions or conflicts exacerbate their sense of cultural dis-identification?

How are hope and despair set in tension in this novel? Describe characters whose lives seemed marked by despair. Describe characters who seem more hopeful. Where do Pat and Majid fit into this configuration?

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