The Way We Exist
Original title: Comme nous existons
This autobiographical book retraces the affective and intellectual story of a child of post-colonial immigration who was born in France in 1987. The author casts her mind back to her earliest childhood, her loving parents, and their tall building on the edge of a city whose windows looked down on comfortable residential streets and a winding river. There are memories of a hard-working but pleasant life lived as a threesome, punctuated by images of a day of celebration in Casablanca that took place before she was born.
The years go quietly by in this working-class neighbourhood, and then suddenly Hania and Mohamed decide to shelter their daughter from a danger that they cannot bring themselves to name. They find her a place at a Catholic secondary school on the other side of town, and this book is the story of the imposed physical dislocation that brings the writer into contact with two divergent social worlds. Now as an adult, she seeks to recover her sense of personal identity by exploring how the heady mix of power relations, class, gender and race can leave its mark on people’s lives and dilute the sense of self.
The author was seventeen in the autumn of 2004 when a law that had been passed a few months earlier came into effect, banning pupils from wearing symbols of religious affiliation at school, and she was eighteen when Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré were electrocuted as they fled from the police in October 2005.
Of the book’s aim, its narrator and central character writes: ‘I wanted to express how politics in all its complexity befell us and to capture as intimately as possible that state of heightened awareness, fear and agitation caused by the discovery that we – young girls and boys identified as Muslim (whether we are or not) – were perceived from the dawn of the 2000s as a problem by a whole section of society. It is an injustice which we need to bring to an end.’ When she left school, Kaoutar Harchi began an intellectual journey that has resulted in this her fourth book, which expresses a desire for justice in a powerfully literary language.
- Longlisted for the Prix Les Inrockuptibles 2021