C'est à peu près en ces terme que la quatrième de couverture annonçait le récit.
Mais en abordant la préface d'Hélène Cixous, j'ai commencé à douter, et j'espérais que le style d'Alia Mamdouh se révèlerait plus simple et sobre. Ce ne fut pas le cas.
Je ne dis pas que ce livre est mauvais, loin sans faut. Mais l'alchimie n'a pas opéré et je me suis arrêtée à la page 16.
Ceux qui suivent ce blog depuis un moment, savent quel exploit cela représente !

Extrait :

"Nous ne devons pas oublier que c'est l'avenir le plus important, pas le passé." L'individu doit impérativement trouver des faits auxqeuls se rattacher. Il désire se cacher pour se sentir plus rassuré. C'est ainsi par exemple, que je me trouve entre ceux qui accueillent le sieur Mus'ab, mon époux encore légal, et sa quatrième femme, Mme Widad.
Certes, ce n'est pas une noce, non plus qu'une lune de miel. Ils se trouvent en Angleterre pour la seconde fois, la première depuis la fin de la guerre. Nous sommes amis et je te tromperais si je te disais qu'une telle situation nous convenait, mais c'était ce qu'il y avait de mieux parmi un ensemble de choix qui se présentait à nous, alors que chacun se trouvait seul dans un endroit différent. Ne vois-tu pas que nous maîtrisons parfaitement la gestion du lieu et du temps? Et quant aux souffrances, eh bien, nous en avons besoin pour mieux nous adapter à l'existence, au monde, à l'univers et aux autres.
Cette femme lui convient-elle ou pas, quelles sont ses dispositions naturelles, ou plus exactement qui est-elle? Je n'en sais rien ma bonne amie.


Éditions Acte Sud - 237 pages



Alia Mamdouh also spelled Aliyah Mamduh (born 1944 in Baghdad, Iraq) is an Iraqi novelist, author and journalist living in exile in Paris, France. She won the 2004 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for her novel The Loved Ones.[1] She is most known for her book Naphtalene, as it was widely acclaimed and translated.

After completing her degree in psychology from the University of Mustansiriya, while at the same time working as editor-in-chief of Al Rasid magazine and editor of al-Fikr al-mua’sir magazine, Mamdouh decided to move and live in Beirut, then Palestine and London and finally settling in Paris.


  • Al-Mahbubat (2005)
  • The Loved Ones (2003)
  • Al-Ghulama (The Maiden) (2000)
  • Al-Wala (Passion) (1993)
  • Habbat Al-Naftalin (Mothballs) (1986)
  • Layla wa Al-Dhib (Laila and the Wolf) (1981)
  • Hawamish ilal Sayyida Ba (Notes to Mrs. B) (1973)
  • ftitahiya lil Dahik (Prelude to Laughter) (1971)
  • Naphtalene: A Novel of Baghdad


Naphtalene: A Novel of Baghdad

by Alia Mamdouh


Naphtalene: A Novel of Baghdad Cover
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Seen through the eyes of a strong-willed and perceptive young girl, Naphtalene beautifully captures the atmosphere of Baghdad in the 1940s and 1950s. Alia Mamdouh vividly recreates a city of public steam baths, roadside butchers and childhood games played in the same streets where political demonstrations against British colonialism are beginning to take place.

At the heart of the novel is nine-year-old Huda, a girl whose fiery, defiant nature belies Western stereotypes of Muslim femininity — and also contrasts sharply with her own inherent powerlessness. Both childishly innocent and acutely perceptive, Huda observes and documents the complex web of relationships in her family. Her father, a bullying police officer who works as a prison guard, treats his two children with vacillating tenderness and brutality, and drives her desparately ill Syrian mother from the house after he takes a second wife. One aunt waits in vain for a man to marry her, while another engages in a sexual relationship with a woman, but is forced to hide it.

Huda must struggle to form her identity amdist this world of unfulfilled women, of yearnings, frustrations, and small tragedies. Her inspiration is her grandmother, a resevoir of strength, humor, and of traditional storytelling, who manages subversively to wield great power in her family and her community.

Through Mamdouh's strikingly inventive use of language, Huda's stream-of-consciousness narrative expands to take in the life not only of a young girl and her family, but of her street, her neighborhood, and her country.


"Originally published in Arabic in 1986, this first U.S. publication by an award-winning Iraqi author living in Paris explores 1950s Baghdad through the eyes of Huda, a fiery and precocious nine-year-old girl. In the teeming streets and dirty alleyways of her neighborhood, Huda is loud and plays rough; she tells her not-so-secret crush, Mahmoud, that she 'can be like a boy.' At home, however, she lives in a world of women: her sickly mother, her grandmother and her aunts. Over the next few years, Huda's father abandons them, her mother dies and Huda herself reaches puberty and must wear the dreaded abaya, or black cloak, in public. Also imminent is the end of the monarchy and the coming revolution. Mamdouh's prose is at once lush and refreshingly earthy — the women, in particular, are free with their frank assessments and insults. Mamdouh's tendency to switch between first- and second-person narration (rendering Huda as both 'I' and 'you') can be disconcerting, and the cast of characters is confusingly large. But she anchors her tale with a spirited and highly sympathetic narrator coming of age in a Baghdad long gone. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)