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ALL MEN BY NATURE DESIRE TO KNOW

Nina Bouraoui

(JC Lattès, 256 pages, 2018)

 

*** SHORT-LISTED FOR THE MEDICIS PRIZE ***


All Men by Nature Desire to Know is the story of the nights of my youth, of my wanderings, my alliances and my heartaches. It is the story of my desire, which became an identity and a struggle.

                                                                                    —Nina Bouraoui

 

From Algeria, where she spent her childhood, to Brittany, the birthplace of her mother, and Paris, where she came of age as a mixed-race gay woman, Nina Bouraoui retraces the source of her desire, and love, for women. A source that she knows can never really be found. What matters is the journey toward self-discovery and self-acceptance that she now shares with us through the gift of her luminous language.

Bouraoui interweaves fragments of family history, recollections, and memories into brief chapters loosely labeled “Remembering,” “Knowing,” and “Becoming.” Most vibrant, sensual, and foundational are her memories of her Algerian childhood and adolescence. It is in Algeria that her appreciation of beauty was formed, where she first learned about violence—the violence of history, and the violence directed toward women. Bouraoui already knew that she was different. The expansiveness of those years in Algeria contrasts sharply with the constricted and prejudiced world of her maternal grandparents in Rennes. Violence is present there, too, but of a different kind.

Her family finally resettles in France in the early 1980s. A few years after their arrival, she discovers the Kat, a Parisian lesbian nightclub. Four times a week, and barely eighteen, she goes there alone, waiting, and searching for love. With poignancy but without sentimentality, Bouraoui evokes the women she encounters, so different from the ones she knew in her childhood, and her awkward first attempts at sexual intimacy. During this pivotal period of her life, still ridden with guilt, shame, and unfulfilled longings, she becomes a writer.

With All Men Naturally Want to Know, Nina Bouraoui continues to build on her critically acclaimed autofictional body of work. She sees herself as an architect who, book by book, gives form to a world of exquisite, painful, and deeply personal experiences that she knows are not just her own. Her self-quest remains open ended, beyond labeling, fluid like her prose.

 

Nina Bouraoui is the author of sixteen novels, including Forbidden Vision (Barrytown Press, 1995), which won the Prix du Livre Inter, Mes mauvaises pensées (Stock, 2005), winner of the Prix Renaudot, and Tomboy (Bison Books-University of Nebraska Press, 2008.) Her works have been translated into fifteen languages, and she has been named an Officier des Arts et des Lettres. After spending the first fourteen years of her life in Algiers (her father is from Algeria and her mother from Brittany), Bouraoui lived in Paris, Zurich, and Abu Dhabi before settling permanently in Paris. She is also known as a songwriter, composing for artists such as Céline Dion.