Nina Bouraoui

Nina Bouraoui was born in Rennes, France, on July 31, 1967, of an Algerian father and French mother. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Algiers with her family where she stayed until the age of thirteen. During the rest of her adolescence, her family lived in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. She attended French lycees and finally moved to Paris to pursue her university studies. She studied law for two years, then philosophy for another two years, during which time she worked on the present book, her first novel, La Voyeuse interdite, begun at the age of nineteen and finished when she was twenty-three.

The story of Nina Bouraoui’s publication with Editions Gallimard, one of the most renowned French presses, is rather extraordinary or, as she terms it, a real fairy tale. She had been writing since she was young, but it was only at the age of nineteen that she decided to write a complete novel. When it was finished, she found the addresses of the best-known presses in her Paris telephone book and sent her unsolicited manuscript, with no agent as intermediary, to Gallimard. Three days later, the editors responded positively. In 1991, she received the literary prize, Prix du Livre Inter, and went on to establish a record for her first novel: 140,000 copies sold. She continues to write and has a luxury so few writers have: she lives by her writing.

Nina Bouraoui grew up in a liberal university milieu, completely unlike the one she describes in Forbidden Vision. Because of the strength of her memories, both good and bad, of her years spent in Algeria, and her own Algerian roots, she wanted her first novel to be about that country. Eager to portray Algerian society and character as she describes them – “boiling,” “dangerous,” “exciting” – she does acknowledge how very difficult it is to be a woman in Algeria. Although the story itself is important, Bouraoui emphasizes that it is not directly autobiographical, but consists of a composite of stories heard, anecdotes, and an acknowledgment of the extreme sexual tensions felt by both women and men in Algeria because of the segregation of the sexes and their respective roles, still dictated to a great degree by traditional norms. There is a foundation of truth in the story which does not intend to mask Bouraoui’s main themes: the lack of communication between human beings, solitude, and the resulting suffering of both men and women.

She draws upon a collective memory of how life was, and in many cases still is, for women in Algeria. She feels, too, perhaps paradoxically, given the violence depicted in Forbidden Vision, that as Westerners we should not be too judgmental about what we perceive to be the slowness with which Algerian society is evolving in its treatment of women—this even in light of the current political, religious, and social crises in Algeria.

For Bouraoui, style and the craft of writing are important beyond the content of the story. Her care in evoking very particular colors, sensations, odors, fragrances, moods, and feelings is evident in the energetic play of language, striking images and deliberate exaggeration. Speaking of her writing, she says: “I am a female voyeur; nothing escapes me, neither odors, colors, or breaths. I steal certain details from reality and propel them into another reality: that of my characters. Words and wrongs surround me, I need only hold out my hand to seize them. An author is a character with two faces. I oscillate between the true and false, between reality and illusion.”