Review of Monia Mazigh’s “Hope Has Two Daughters”, by S N Smith

  • Review of Monia Mazigh’s “Hope Has Two Daughters”, by S N SmithNovel written by Monia Mazigh
    Translated by Fred A. Reed
    Published by House of Anansi Press, 2017
    Sold in Ottawa at Octopus Books

    I am a big believer in the power of fiction to convey important
    messages and even compel people into positive action. Fiction can
    communicate things that non-fiction lacks the ability to. The inward
    passions, motivations, fears, hopes, sorrow, disillusionment, joy, and
    a host of other human emotions, can be painted on the pages of a well
    written novel. And those emotions are experienced within a particular
    context, and when we understand that context we then understand where
    these emotions are coming from and that they don’t exist in a vacuum.
    Not everyone, of course, reacts the same way to the events around
    them, and many people are riddled with a host of contradictions and
    shortcomings which are not always easy to decipher. Fiction, I
    believe, has the power to highlight this in a more effective way than
    non-fiction can. For non-fiction tends to stick to the facts of what
    we know or, if the historical imagination is exercised, it is still
    done so within limits, and thus we don’t always get a full picture of
    the impact of events on the lives of people, especially individuals.

    And this brings me to Monia Mazigh’s latest novel, Hope has Two
    Daughters, a line which comes from Augustine of Hippo, also a North
    African, which says, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names
    are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see
    that they do not remain as they are.”

    And this sentence, I feel, captures what Mazigh seeks to achieve in her novel.

    This is a story of the awakening of a political consciousness and how
    when it is brought to the fore of one’s thinking or world view there
    is no going back. The world, as we thought is was, no longer exists
    and it is impossible to live with the delusion despite how others seek
    to dissuade or discourage us. The wall — the wall of delusion — that
    has protected us, comes tumbling down and now we see what we failed to
    see before and are forced to move out of the safe space we have carved
    for ourselves. Even the fear that previously held us firmly in its
    grip has to let go or we become stripped of our very humanity and can
    not longer live with ourselves. This does not mean that the fear does
    not exist, only that it no longer has power over us. You will see this
    process taking place in the lives of the characters in Mazigh’s novel.

    Two main characters — mother and daughter — and two major political
    events in Tunisia, 26 years apart, shape their respective political
    destinies. The scales fall from their eyes and it is as if they have
    emerged from Plato’s cave for the very first time and now they see the
    light of the sun and thus can no longer re-enter that cave. It is
    almost like they experience some kind of release, as when Nadia, the
    mother, says: “But the couscous revolt had transformed me, had made me
    had made me a new person.” (pg 200)

    This novel is also about the price that people sometimes have to pay
    when they speak truth to power, and that price can be very heavy and
    painful, and sometimes even deadly. In this novel Nadia is forced into
    exile from her native country while Mounir is imprisoned for 7 years.
    But in the backdrop of all this we know many people in Tunisia
    perished for speaking truth to power.

    This book will move you to tears in places. But this is not the
    purpose of Mazigh’s writings. She wants to inform her readers of the
    painful choices people are forced to make and that despite the many
    hardships that accompany the political activist, the price is worth it
    because a life lived in the cause of struggle for the rights of others
    is a life well lived and places one on the right side of history.

    Mazigh possesses the moral authority to write this novel, as anyone
    who knows her personal biography can attest, and thus her words are
    not just empty rhetoric or arm-chair sociology, but born out of
    personal struggle — her own anger and courage — and yet emerging
    from that suffering as a voice of freedom and passion for those who
    will follow after her.

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