Every now and then violence erupts in the banlieues of France allowing the world a glimpse into the grimmest corners of these multiethnic suburban ghettos. From such a corner comes the story of Samira Bellil, who by raising her voice and telling her tale broke the "code of silence" imposed by many in her immigrant community and the willful ignorance of society at large. In this book, Bellil describes her life in the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis. The child of Algerian parents, she was fostered by a Belgian family until the age of five while her father was in prison. Bellil returned to a violent home and grew up to rebel against an increasingly repressive environment. Gang-raped at fourteen and then raped again some years later, she maintained her silence until she discovered that two friends had shared her fate at the hands of the same gang. Against the threat of reprisals, Bellil decided to pursue her attackers through the French legal system, earning the rejection of her family and the indifference of her lawyers and the media.
To Hell and Back relates her struggle to recover, to create a new culture of support and compassion, and to offer hope to others who suffer in silence. Painful and disturbing, Bellil's tale helped inspire a national debate on women's rights and the multicultural image of France today.
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(5487mm x 3556mm x 12mm)
University of Nebraska Press
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
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US Kirkus Review »
Disturbing account of the author's adolescence in Seine-Saint-Denis, a Parisian suburb crowded with low-rent high-rises and misguided youth.Her parents, immigrants from Algiers, were critical and violent, often punishing Bellil by throwing her into the streets despite the dangers they knew lurked there. Neglected and rebellious, she was only 13 when she fell in with a neighborhood gang, 14 when they gang-raped her. Steeped in misguided traditions and worried about their reputations, her family and friends abandoned her and even blamed her for the rape. When she finally found the courage to break the neighborhood code of silence and file charges, the police and lawyers assigned to the case were indifferent and lazy, further instilling in Bellil a sense of bitter hopelessness. In gritty, vivid language, the author describes the rage she felt at facing her situation alone, the numbing relief of drugs, her increasing inability to keep mind and body whole. "[Acting out] was the only means I had," she writes, "to vomit up the suffering that suffocated and devoured me so physically it was as if I were being eaten up by worms." She suffered epileptic seizures, spent years in shelters, hospitals and the streets; her home was filled with tension, blame and alcohol-fueled altercations with her parents. Bellil often dreamed of the idyllic time she'd spent with a Belgian foster family while her father was in prison, and memories of that unconditional love kept her working toward a new life. She eventually found help in psychotherapy and wrote this memoir as part of her emotional recovery. Its publication in 2002 put the author at the forefront of a movement to force French officials to acknowledge and address the overlooked violence against young women in its squalid banlieues.A sad but fitting memorial to Bellil, who died of stomach cancer at age 31 in 2004. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Samira Bellil
Samira Bellil (1972-2004) was born in Algiers and raised in France by her immigrant parents. After prosecuting her attackers, she won a small measure of justice and became a youth worker and an advocate for minority ethnic women's rights. She was chosen to represent one of the "Mariannes of Today" in an historic exhibit remaking this iconic figure of the French Republic. She died of stomach cancer at the age of thirty-one. Lucy R. McNair is the translator of The Poor Man's Son, Mouloud Feraoun's Algerian classic. Alec G. Hargreaves is the director of the Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies and Ada Belle Winthrop-King Professor of French at Florida State University.