The Spectators (“Les Spectateurs”), by Nathalie Azoulai
A novel of exile and the resulting struggles with identity, The Spectators brings to the stage a family of anonymous expatriates in 1960s France and interrogates our collective memory.
A woman of letters
Born in 1966 to Egyptian parents, Nathalie Azoulai grew up in the Paris region and obtained her certification in modern letters higher education (“agrégation de lettres modernes”) at the École Normale Supérieure. In 2002, she published her first novel, Troubled Mother (“Mère agitée”), which discusses the challenges of motherhood through situations drawn from her own experience.
A publisher, screenwriter and children's author, she won the Medicis Prize in 2015 for her novelistic tribute to Jean Racine, Titus Did Not Love Bérénice (“Titus n’aimait pas Bérénice”). In an echo of her parents’ displacement, the French writer explores the troubled feelings of exile in The Spectators, published in 2018 by Éditions P.O.L.
A story of the exiled
On 27th November 1967, General de Gaulle condemned Israel’s occupation of Palestine. In front of the television, a 13-year-old child watches the scene alongside his parents, who came to live in the suburbs of Paris a few years previously, after being driven out of their land in the East.
Trapped between his love of France and his parents’ exile, the teenager questions the "identity tremors" that shake his family history. A story of exiles which intertwines a mother’s Hollywood dreams, a father’s symbolic Israel, and the desire to find his roots of a young hero on a search for meaning.
Recounting the uprooting
Winner of a Stendhal residency in 2016, Nathalie Azoulai spent several weeks in Israel writing this story of exiles. She changed her initial project, centred around a narrator watching the condemnation of the Israeli State by General de Gaulle 50 years earlier. As she wrote, the novelist refined her commentary and decided to immerse the reader in 1960s France.
Returning to themes of confusing motherhood and brotherly love, she brings us part of her childhood through the eyes of a teenager who questions his family history.
The global spectacle
By anchoring her account in 1967, a few months after the Six Day War in the Middle East, Nathalie Azoulai began a reflection on uprooting, where intimate considerations and geopolitical questions intertwine. All the more so because, with the recent advent of the small screen, the global spectacle now played out in French living rooms.
A spectacle that echoes the current migrant crisis, because just like those refugees who are now crossing the globe in search of a welcoming land, we will never know the name or homeland of these “spectators” forced to leave their home country.
Winner of an Institut français Stendhal Residency, Nathalie Azoulai was in Tel-Aviv, Israël, in november and december of 2016.
The Stendhal programme allows French authors or authors living in France to travel to a foreign country and work on a writing project related to that country.