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Mazaltob

A Novel

Written by Blanche Bendahan. Edited by Yaëlle Azagury & Frances Malino

Raised in the Judería or Jewish quarter of Tetouan, Morocco, at the turn of the 20th-century, sixteen-year-old Mazaltob finds herself betrothed to José, an uncouth man from her own community who has returned from Argentina to take a wife. Mazaltob, however, is in love with Jean, who is French, half-Jewish, and a free spirit. In this classic of North African Jewish fiction, Blanche Bendahan evokes the two compelling forces tearing Mazaltob apart in her body and soul: her loyalty to the Judería and her powerful desire to follow her own voice and find true love.

Bendahan’s nuanced and moving novel is a masterly exploration of the language, religion, and quotidian customs constraining North African Jewish women on the cusp of emancipation and decolonization. Yaëlle Azagury and Frances Malino provide the first English translation of this modern coming-of-age tale, awarded a prize by the Académie Française in 1930, and analyze the ways in which Mazaltob, with its disconcerting blend of ethnographic details and modernist experimentation, is the first of its genre—that of the feminist Sephardi novel. A historical introduction, a literary analysis, and annotations elucidate historical and cultural terms for readers, supplementing the author’s original notes.

 

Paper: $29.95 | Cloth: $120 | E-book: $28.95
ISBN-13: 9781684582051
Pages: 192 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: March 7, 2024
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This polyphonic novel is both historically important and, in its new translation, a gift for our current times.

Elizabeth Graver

Author of Kantika

Reviews

  • "Mazaltob" is a fascinating portrait of a young Moroccan Sephardi woman as she navigates the ever-shifting ground between tradition and modernity, East and West, self and other, obligation and desire. Stylistically bold, culturally rich, by turns comic and wrenching, this polyphonic novel is both historically important and, in its new translation, a gift for our current times.

    Elizabeth Graver
    Author of Kantika
  • English-language readers will rejoice at this translation of Blanche Bendahan’s coming-of-age story, set in northern Morocco at the turn of the century and following the dreams and travails of a Jewish young woman who chafes at the constraints that society places upon her. This marvelous annotated translation restores to us the forgotten words of an award-winning Jewish woman writer—and introduces us to a young, female Jewish protagonist whose sexual and spiritual desires are evocative and timely. With artful, informed introductory words by Yaelle Azagury and Frances Malino, Mazaltob is a crucial complement and counterpoint to Albert Memmi’s Pillar of Salt: it is what students of French, North African, and Jewish culture have been thirsting for.

    Sarah Abreyava Stein
    Professor of History and Viterbi Family Chair in Mediterranean Jewish Studies, UCLA
  • Bendahan’s masterpiece, a stunning exploration of Jewishness, feminism, and modernity in Morocco, deserves to be read far and wide. Malino’s excellent biographical introduction and Azagury’s fascinating literary analysis beautifully frame their translation. A delight and a triumph!

    Jessica M. Marglin
    Professor of Religion, Law and History and Ruth Ziegler Chair in Jewish Studies, USC
  • A beautiful, poetic novel, Mazaltob offers rich description of the lives of Jewish women in early 20th century Tetouan, while also reflecting upon the early 20th century French intellectual milieu of its author, Blanche Bendahan. The fluid translation makes the work of this important but long-overlooked Sephardic writer a pleasure to read in English.

    Deborah Starr
    Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Jewish Studies, Cornell University
  • This is a poignant coming-of-age novel which explores themes of feminism, decolonization, diaspora, orientalism and the struggle between modernity and tradition. The text is rich and lush in its descriptions of North African Jewish life and customs; it’s also slippery in its point of view, meandering between narrators and voices in a way reminiscent of fellow modernist feminist writer Virginia Woolf.

    Hey Alma
  • Mazal­tob is psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly astute, high­light­ing clash­es?—?of tra­di­tions and of val­ues?—?that are incred­i­bly mod­ern. The his­to­ry of this lit­tle-known cor­ner of the Jew­ish world where ?“the Sephardim view them­selves as aris­to­crats” is fas­ci­nat­ing and moving. Ben­da­han was ahead of her time as a fem­i­nist yet of the moment as a nov­el­ist. She had one foot in twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Euro­pean cul­ture and anoth­er in the rit­u­als and rhythms of ancient Sephardic Jewry.

    Jewish Book Council

About the Author

Fran Malino

Frances Malino is the Sophia Moses Robison Professor of Jewish Studies and History Emerita at Wellesley College. She is author of The Sephardic Jews of Bordeaux: Assimilation and Emancipation in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France (1978) and A Jew in the French Revolution: The Life of Zalkind Hourwitz(1996) and co-editor of Essays in Modern Jewish History: a Tribute to Ben Halpern (1982), The Jews in Modern France(1985), Profiles in Diversity: Jews in …

Yaëlle Azagury

Yaëlle Azagury is a writer, literary scholar, and critic. She was Lecturer in French and Francophone Studies at Barnard College, and Lecturer in Discipline in the English and Comparative Literature Department at Columbia University. She has contributed essays and scholarly articles for Women Writing Africa, Rethinking Jewish Culture and Society in North Africa and the Middle East , among other scholarly volumes. She is a native of Tangier, Morocco.

Blanche Bendahan

Blanche Bendahan was born in Oran, Algeria on November 26, 1893, to a Jewish family of Moroccan-Spanish origin. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to France, where she was educated in the French system. Bendahan published her first collection of poetry, La voile sur l’eau, in 1926 and then her first novel, Mazaltob, in 1930. Mazaltob, which won an award from the Académie Française, portrays a North African woman in Tetouan, Morocco, and …

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