Rachida Cherni’s Hymns to her Pains: A novel of reality and what is left unspoken.
A new novel written by Tunisian writer whose fictional texts are famous for realism and defending human rights and especially women’s rights was published in Beirut by Arab Scientific Publishers, Inc.
The novel deeply depicts tragedies of mothers in their relations to prisons of opinion through the suffering of a Tunisian family that its younger son, Gaith, was arrested due to his political attitudes. Through the character of the mother, Khadhra Jeballia, Rachida Cherni reveals images of the true struggle of the Tunisian woman in her spontaneity, honesty, depth, violence, suffering, sorrows, and tears. Besides, she reveals her challenge to authority and the agents of prisons to protect and defend her son in all Tunisian prisons; in Borj Erroumi, Kasserine, Sfax, and El Haouareb. The writer stops at the failure of the Tunisian youths, and their despair of their status quo. So the middle child immigrates in an illegal way, and the older is lost in taverns. The youths of the country were not but “alive/dead creatures that are fed by coercion, and have no future.”
Hymns to her Pains (Tarateel li Alamiha) is a novel of reality, and what is left unspoken, in terms of social wretchedness, political tension, and the corruption of the system in all its choices, especially in the judiciary, media and education. Rachida Cherni predicted the deep causes of the political, social, and economic fall of the regime. She wrote in a precise and deep way starting from her family situation, and her love to her mother, siblings, and environment in Tunis and Ain Draham. The narrator, Dounia, was not but Rachida Cherni as a member of this Tunisian family that was intimidated by the former regime. She was not but a daughter of a mother who knew all sorts of plights and sorrows.
Analysing the character of Khadhra Jeballia, Rachida Cherni recollected the first half of the twentieth century, and particularly the era of colonisation. She revealed some aspects of resisting the coloniser by inhabitants of the north-west. She recollected the Fellaghas who dwelled the mountains, and the heroisms of Ali Ben Ghedhahem, Daghbaji, Bechir Ben Zdira, and other symbols of the national struggle. Writing, for Rachida Cherni, is not but a journey of recollection, revelation, and prediction through experimenting with narratorial techniques that are characterised by the variety of references, especially in relation to the diversity of protagonists, and places, the involvement of characters, one after the other, in narration, and the use of poetry, music, history, fine arts, riddles as essential backgrounds by which the narrator, Dounia, is illuminated:
“The cow never begets a gazelle.
She begets a calf with protruding ears.
Lions’ children are fighters,
but a hyena’s child always falls in the trap.” P.124
The mother Khadhra Jeballia, in her depth, is not but a metaphor of Tunisia, the land, and the country that comes out from cellars and darkness to freedom and lights. The death of Khadhra Jeballia stands for the martyrs of this country who have sacrificed their blood as a price for freedom:
“Oh, Khadhra! You are Tunisia’s colour.
The crows’ night is short,
and all life
is cheaper than your tear.” P. 165
Originally appeared in the Tunisian daily Alchourouk 31/05/2012 by Mohamed Issa El Mouadeb.
You can read the original text in Arabic here.
Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.