This slim volume is the first appearance in English of award-winning French author, photographer, publisher, and radio producer Colette Fellous. Born in Tunisia to Jewish parents, Fellous has spent most of her adult life living and working in France. But the lure of her birth country and the life she led there with her parents drew her back year after year — long after her parents left the country in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War in Israel and long after their deaths. That is, until 2015. In that annus terribilis the Francophone world was riven by extreme terrorist violence, beginning with the Charlie Hebdomassacre in January, followed closely by the kosher supermarket standoff and hostage deaths, and ending the following November with the attacks throughout Paris. Simultaneously, in Tunisia terrorists attacked tourists in two major incidents, one at the country’s principal museum and another at a beach resor, in addition to scattered attacks against government installations and personnel.
Fellous struggled to come to a decision during this maelstrom of violence — to leave Tunisia for good. In the mix of Fellous’ emotions is her reaction to the death of a close friend, an author who gave up writing to take up an adventure sailing around the Mediterranean. The book’s lyrical prose records her meditations on the meaning of her birthplace, why she continued to return there every year, her memories of her parents’ troubled marriage, and her relationships in Tunisia and in France
The English title for this volume embodies Fellous’ sense of disorientation at the outburst of violence by terrorists in her birth country. Tunisia had been the origin of the Arab Spring movement and it was the one country in the Arab world that seemed to be moving in the positive direction that the Spring promised — toward freedom and tolerance. Fellous paints a picture of the multi-ethnic world she grew up in, which, though it had its tensions and fault lines, was a meeting place of cultures and traditions. The outburst of violence threatened that promise. The French title, Pièces détachées (detached or separate pieces), expresses something of Fellous’ method of composition. The book is cast as a transcription of her troubled days following the second attack on tourists at a Tunisian beach resort just weeks after learning of her friend’s death. She records her shifting memories, summoned up Proust-like, by smells and tastes and sights. The connections are more emotional and associative than logical. The French title also expresses something of the place in the world of Fellous and her family of exiles and refugees along with other refugees that have so dominated the headlines in recent years.
Fellous’ style incorporates the voices of others — her father, friends in Normandy, Tunisians — and it is sometimes difficult to keep track of whose thoughts and words we are reading. Her reasons for deciding to abandon Tunisia remain something of a mystery — and as the last pages indicate, may not be her final decision after all. But the book’s lyricism carries it along as Fellous moves through her memories, and artfully evokes the time, place, and personalities of a world knocked off its axis.