Review of Monia Mazigh’s “Hope Has Two Daughters”, by S N SmithNovel written by Monia MazighTranslated 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.