As faculty in the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, associate professor of French and Francophone studies Lia Brozgal, along with vice chair and professor of history Sarah Stein, recently co-edited a volume of classic Tunisian-French literature published by Stanford University Press.
“Ninette of Sin Street,” originally published in Tunis in 1938, is one of the first works of Tunisian fiction in French. Under the aegis of the Franco-Jewish organization the Alliance Israélite Universelle, “Ninette” author Vitalis Danon arrived in Tunisia and quickly adopted — and was adopted by — the local community.
Ninette is an unlikely protagonist: Compelled by poverty to work as a prostitute, she dreams of a better life and an education for her son. Plucky and street-wise, she enrolls her son in the local school and the story unfolds as she narrates her life to the school's headmaster.
Ninette's account is both a classic rags-to-riches tale and a subtle, incisive critique of French colonialism. That Ninette's story should still prove surprising today suggests how much we stand to learn from history, and from the secrets of Sin Street.
The new volume offers the first English translation of Danon's best-known work. A selection of his letters, as well as an introduction and notes by the editors, provide context for this cornerstone of Judeo-Tunisian literature.
Brozgal earned a Ph.D. in romance languages and literatures from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at UCLA in 2008, she was appointed lecturer in history and literature at Harvard University. Her research and teaching encompass a variety of topics in Francophone North African literature, culture and history, and contemporary France.
She is the author of “Against Autobiography: Albert Memmi and the Production of Theory”; co-editor of “Being Contemporary: French Literature, Culture and Politics Today”; and author of essays on North African literature cinema, beur cultural productions, chronicles of the Holocaust in North Africa, and Judeo-Maghrebi literature and film. With the support of an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, Brozgal is anticipating the completion of a monograph devoted to the literary and visual representations of the Oct.17, 1961, massacre of Algerians in Paris.
Stein received her doctorate from Stanford University in 1999. Her scholarship has ranged across the Yiddish- and Ladino-speaking diasporas, as well as the British and French imperial, Russian, American, Ottoman and wider Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and North African settings. Her work engages with the cultural, economic and political intricacies of modern Jewish culture.
An elected member of the American Academy for Jewish Research and a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, Stein authored “Extraterritorial Dreams: European Citizenship, Sephardi Jews, and the Ottoman Twentieth Century,” a 2016 National Jewish Book Award winner that explores Ottoman Jewish encounters with evolving legal systems that accompanied the dismantling, persistence and transformation of empires in Europe and across the globe.
The first edition of Brozgal and Stein’s “Ninette of Sin Street” can be purchased online.