By Aimée Israel-Pelletier, Department of Modern Languages, University of Texas at Arlington
Victor Teboul was born in Alexandria, Egypt on May 9, 1945. He was expelled from Egypt and arrived in France with his family on December 25, 1956*. The family had seven days to leave Egypt. The reason they were given for the expulsion was their possession of a French passport. In France, the family lived under the auspices of the French government at the convent of Notre-Dame-de-l’Osier in the Isère from January 1957 to May 1957. They resided in the convent alongside approximately one hundred Jewish families who had also been expelled from Egypt. In July 1963, the family immigrated to Montreal. Teboul received his Doctorat from the Université de Montréal, his Masters from McGill University, and his Bachelor of Arts from Concordia University.
Teboul is a French-Canadian writer, professor, and the founder and director, since 2002, of the online magazine, Tolerance. His essay, Mythe et images du Juif au Québec (1977), provoked heated public debate about the role of the Jew in Canadian life and literature. In contrast to other writers, Teboul sees exile less as a state of suffering than as a chance to strengthen Jewish identity. He is the author of two novels, Que Dieu vous garde de l’homme silencieux quand il se met soudain à parler (May God Help you when the Silent Man Begins to Speak), 1999, and La lente découverte de l’étrangeté (The Slow Unrelenting Discovery of Strangeness), 2002.
His novels are fictional but they borrow freely from his own life. They expand on his experiences to the point where, as he states, they reflect lives not his own and histories he could not have known first hand. For Teboul, writing is the opportunity to create a place of one’s own for Jews within the larger context, be it political, cultural, literary, or institutional. There is no question of erasing distinctions between the Jew and others. Rather, as he suggests, his novelistic ambition is the insertion of the Jew, particularly the Sephardic experience, in the history of literature and within Quebecois literature.
His main character, and alter-ego, Maurice Ben Haïm, is conceived as a representative figure of the French-Canadian Jew. Maurice has a place in the continuous history of the Jews of Quebec, a history that has taken place before he arrived. In a way then, Teboul asserts, there is a history that precedes him and with which he must work and interract.
This is the same situation as when a Jew arrives, for example, in France. When he arrives there, Teboul adds, he identifies immediately with the history of the Jews in France even if he, this Jew coming from elsewhere, has just arrived. This way, Teboul contends, we are not strangers in a strange land, some of our own were here before and prepared the place for us. Teboul’s work reflects a positive attitude regarding exile and a nuanced understanding of the modern Jew living, as he often is, outside his motherland and speaking in languages other than his mother tongue.
Victor Teboul Selected Bibliography
Teboul, Victor. Mythe et images du Juif au Québec. Montreal : Editions de Lagrave, 1977.
___________. Le Jour. Émergence du libéralisme moderne au Québec : Editions Hurtubise HMH, Cahiers du Quebec, 1984.
---------------. Que Dieu vous garde de l’homme silencieux quand il se met soudain à parler. Quebec : Éditions Les Intouchables, 1999.
----------------. René Lévesque et la communauté juive. Quebec : Éditions Les Intouchables, 2001.
---------------. La Lente découverte de l’étrangeté. Quebec : Éditions Les Intouchables, 2002.
Department of Modern Languages
University of Texas at Arlington
Arlington, Tx 76012
Teboul, Victor; Egypt; Alexandria; France; Notre-Dame-de-l’Osier; Canada; Montreal; Writer; Novelist; Essayist; French-Canadian Literature; Maurice Ben-Haïm; Exile; www.Tolerance.ca.
Teboul was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1945 and expelled in 1956. He is a Canadian citizen. He is a novelist, essayist, founder and director of the online magazine Tolerance. He writes in French. His literary ambition is the insertion of the Jew, particularly the Sephardic Jew, in Canadian literature.
Article published in March 2010.
Image : Group of Jewish refugees at Notre-Dame-de-l'Osier, Isère, France. Please do not reproduce image without permission.
* To be more precise, we left Alexandria on December 28, 1956 on board of the S/S Aeolia. We arrived at Marseilles on January 4,1957 and at Notre-Dame-de-l'Osier during the night, by bus. (V.T.)
Posted on this site on June 21, 2012
For studies published in French on Victor Teboul's work, please click HERE