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Thu Jun 11, 2020, 08:58 PM

Albert Memmi, a 'Jewish Arab' Intellectual, Dies at 99

Albert Memmi, a leading mid-20th century French intellectual and writer best known for nonfiction books and novels that unraveled his anomalous identity as an ardent anti-imperialist, an unapologetic Zionist and a self-described “Jewish Arab,” died on May 22 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris. He was 99.

His death was announced by Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, the French ambassador to Tunisia, where Mr. Memmi was born and raised when it was a French protectorate. Although he was overshadowed by Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre (both of whom wrote introductions to his books), Mr. Memmi was celebrated in Europe and Africa as an author and sociologist.

Among his best-known books, some of which were later translated into English, were “The Pillar of Salt” (1953) and “Strangers” (1955), both autobiographical novels; “The Scorpion” (1969), another fictionalized account of a mixed marriage, like his own; and the nonfiction “The Colonizer and the Colonized” (1957), which he followed a half-century later with a somewhat disillusioned verdict on the fruits of national liberation in “Decolonization and the Decolonized” (2006).

...In The Jewish Review of Books, Daniel Gordon wrote in 2018 that Mr. Memmi “has combined, perhaps more than any other writer since World War II, the compassion needed to articulate the suffering of oppressed groups with the forthrightness needed to censure them for their own acts of oppression.”

Mr. Memmi said of his writings: “All of my work has been in sum an inventory of my attachments; all of my work has been, it should be understood, a constant revolt against my attachments.”

“I was a sort of half-breed of colonization,” he once said, “understanding everyone because I belonged completely to no one.”


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