9 9 2017
Shukri al-Mabkhout and Elisabetta Bartuli discuss the Tunisian left in the '80s and '90s.
Shukri al-Mabkhout, the Tunisian academic and rector of Manouba University, wrote his first novel The Italian at age 50. In 2015, it became the first Tunisia book to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the Booker of Arabic literature. He spoke about his novel at Festivaletteratura with Elisabetta Bartuli, translator and expert in Arabic fiction.
The plot of novel takes place in the 1980s and 90s in the transition period from Bourghiba's government to the Ben Ali presidency following the Jasmine Revolution (1987). Shukri al-Mabkhout has always thought about writing a book that looks at the Tunisian situation, but the Italian public found some parallels in the work. It's not just the title that raises interest: that is simply the nickname of the protagonist Abdel Nasser, called 'the Italian' for his good looks and features.
The heart of the novel, as Bartuli noted, is the left, and the main question posed to the author was: "why was the Tunisian left unable to rise to power following the revolution?" The book recounts the young student union and it is also somewhat of a love story, due to the relationship between the leftist militant Adbel Nasser and Zeina, a real revolutionary and intellectual, a strong and contradictory character.
The writer uses the protagonists' actions to reflect on how you can maintain your own values and individual freedoms even when living in a dictatorship. For Shukri al-Mabkhout, this book was also about the possibility of completing some personal research, not just academic work: "I couldn't find the answers to many questions, so I was able to write a novel in which I could reflect and talk."