Zitoyen! by Mohamed Ridha Ben Hamouda. Reviewed by Alchourouk.

Zitoyen! Front Cover. Photo borrowed off http://www.facebook.com/Zitoyen/photos

In Zitoyen!’s novel: Dreamers of a bright tomorrow are living in destruction.

A 468-page novel titled Zitoyen! Or The Nomadic Generation and written by Mohamed Ridha Ben Hamouda was published by Dar El Janoub. This novel won a Comar Prize in 2012.

This novel is divided into three sections. It was written in summer 2010, and spoke about the children of the independence era—a generation that witnessed the founding of a new state and grew with it dreaming of a better tomorrow, and a bright future. But it found itself surrounded with setbacks and crises that the country and the countries of the Arab World witnessed which worsened the status quo, especially after the senility of the leader and the beginning of the fight over rule, and the conspiracy to seize power. Suddenly, everybody was surprised by a “dragon’s” dominance over the wheels of the state and his administering of the country and the people according to his desires without facing any opposition or refusal. So the country sank into a status of an intellectual bankruptcy and despair.

It is a status that the writer expressed through his characters that came from the Tunisian elite, representing all currents—be they rightist or leftist, and that was aware of the deteriorated and worsening situations. The characters met in the island of Kerkennah on the occasion of a trip that its objective was not to relax and enjoy moments of tranquility and dream, but also to face the self and the other, and to sink into the gap between them. It was an intellectual fight and confrontation that sometimes made them hate each other.

Zitoyen! Photo borrowed off http://www.facebook.com/Zitoyen/photos

It is a novel that touches upon the concepts of trip and travel. It is a trip of ridiculing the status quo that did not cater for the dream of a whole people, and the aspirations of children and youths. Seeing the world falling asunder around them, the characters have no solutions, but face the status quo with ridicule, and fall in confusion. Sami starts wondering, “Who are we?”

Although it seemed an easy question to many, it was in fact a difficult one as it was open to interpretation, and aroused confusion. It made them search for the etymology and meaning of the word “citizenship,” and the rationality of its application to a country’s status quo that might not go hand in hand with it. A status quo where the human being is restricted by duties, to the point of stifling, which leads the majority to avoid them, and rights that are just ink on paper, so they remained a mere illusion which is spoken about it only in speeches.

Feeling that the word “citizen” could not be applied to the individual’s status in their country as it did not reflect the reality of his/her life and what he/she waits from his/her country made them search for an alternative word that is more corresponding to reality. So, one of them suggested the word “Zitoyen.” [ A parody of the French word “citoyen”]

It is a strange word that no one could find a meaning for it either in Arabic or in the rest of the languages of the world. This gave the novel a mysterious flavour which provokes you to read it, and learn about the secret of this word and its etymology. The reader can discover all this in the novel’s next pages.

Originally appeared in the Tunisian daily Alchourouk 30/05/2012 by Alchourouk culture section.

You can read the original text in Arabic here.

Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.


About aliznaidi

Ali Znaidi lives in Redeyef, Tunisia. He graduated with a BA in Anglo-American Studies in 2002. He teaches English at Tunisian public secondary schools. He writes poetry and has an interest in literature, languages, and literary translations. His work has appeared here and there and is scheduled to appear elsewhere . At moments of revelation, he smokes and drinks green tea with mint while pondering.
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