One day an illiterate Algerian immigrant in Lyon gave his son, Azouz Begag, a book, saying, “This book is a bird.” How Begag took flight on the wings of learning is one of the stories that unfolds in this captivating autobiographical novel of growing up amid the multicultural complexities of contemporary France.
Determined to leave behind the poverty of his shantytown life, Begag works to become a star pupil at the local primary school—earning the jealousy and rejection of his Arab playmates even as he contends with the anti-Arab racism of his French peers. Begag’s moving and often comical account of negotiating a path between the competing cultural spaces encountered during his childhood is a compelling tale of coming of age in a world of ethnic and racial tensions. A story for all ages, it is also very much of the moment, offering unique insights into the reweaving of the social fabric of France in response to growing ethnic diversity.
“What a delightful little book this is. . . . [Shantytown Kid] is a comic, heartwarming, coming-of-age story. . . . [It is] light, witty, and full of amusing twists. . . . Until the last page, the story keeps the reader totally engaged, and most of the time, smiling. Thank you, translators.”—Historical Novels Review
“[T]his autobiographic novel both charms and informs. . . . Strongly recommended.”—KLIATT
"Anyone with an interest in post-colonial cultures and ethnic relations will find Begag's writings both stimulating and perceptive."—Mathilde von Bulow, Oxford Journal
“By writing what is in many ways a classic coming-of-age story, as reminiscent in spirit of Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups as of any works that are specifically Arab or North African, Begag has successfully avoided producing a misérabiliste depiction of France’s immigrant community. In this way, Shantytown Kid stands out from the ever growing genre of beur literature that often relies on stereotypical portrayals of immigrants as the passive victims of economic hardship and societal racism.”—Gretchen Head, Arab Studies Journal
“Begag breaks into the French language and Republic with subversive humor and style, forcefully rendered in the first English-language translation of a personal trajectory intimately intertwined with the evolution of French society since the 1960s.”—Danielle Marx-Scouras, author of La France de Zebda 1981–2004
“This beautifully translated and brilliantly introduced novel will hereafter serve as the essential starting point for an English-reading public desiring to make sense out of the urgent immigration and housing debates in contemporary France.”—James D. Le Sueur, author of Uncivil War: Intellectuals and Identity Politics during the Decolonization of Algeria
“A delightful coming-of-age story. This groundbreaking work mixes fiction and autobiographical elements to create a compelling portrait of the North African community in France.”—Mark McKinney, associate professor of French at Miami University