To Hell and Back


To Hell and Back

The Life of Samira Bellil

Samira Bellil
Translated by Lucy R. McNair
Introduction by Alec G. Hargreaves

France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization Series

168 pages


October 2008


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Every now and then violence erupts in the banlieues of France allowing the world a glimpse into the grimmest corners of these multiethnic suburban ghettos. From such a corner comes the story of Samira Bellil, who by raising her voice and telling her tale broke the “code of silence” imposed by many in her immigrant community and the willful ignorance of society at large. In this book, Bellil describes her life in the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis. The child of Algerian parents, she was fostered by a Belgian family until the age of five while her father was in prison. Bellil returned to a violent home and grew up to rebel against an increasingly repressive environment. Gang-raped at fourteen and then raped again some years later, she maintained her silence until she discovered that two friends had shared her fate at the hands of the same gang.
Against the threat of reprisals, Bellil decided to pursue her attackers through the French legal system, earning the rejection of her family and the indifference of her lawyers and the media. To Hell and Back relates her struggle to recover, to create a new culture of support and compassion, and to offer hope to others who suffer in silence. Painful and disturbing, Bellil's tale helped inspire a national debate on women's rights and the multicultural image of France today.

Author Bio

Samira Bellil (1972–2004) was born in Algiers and raised in France by her immigrant parents. After prosecuting her attackers, she won a small measure of justice and became a youth worker and an advocate for minority ethnic women’s rights. She was chosen to represent one of the “Mariannes of Today” in an historic exhibit remaking this iconic figure of the French Republic. She died of stomach cancer at the age of thirty-one.
Lucy R. McNair is the translator of The Poor Man's Son, Mouloud Feraoun's Algerian classic. Alec G. Hargreaves is the director of the Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies and Ada Belle Winthrop-King Professor of French at Florida State University.


"Although Bellil died of cancer at 31 in 2004, her memoir has brought widespread attention to the increasing sexual violence within these French communities, and her words give a voice to other young women who are silently suffering abuse."—Leah Strauss, Booklist

Table of Contents



1. Jaïd and K.   

2. Alone   

3. K.

4. "Cellar Sluts"

5. Two Families  

6. The Charge    

7. Mathieu 

8. Runaways

9. The Grind     

10. Shelter      

11. Algeria

12. I remember . . .   

13. Confrontation

14. That Damn Bag!     

15. Swirling     

16. Saint-Denis  

17. My "Trial" . . .   

18. The Fight    

19. Grilled

20. Insaf, Barry . . . 

21. Therapy

22. Let's . . . Drop It

23. "First, I Want to Thank the Honorable Judge . . ."     

Epilogue: My Book

Postface to the First Edition

Postface to the Second Edition     


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