A newly translated Judeo-Tunisian novella opens a window onto life under colonial rule.
Published in Tunis in 1938, Ninette of Sin Street is one of the first works of Tunisian fiction in French and is now available in English for the first time. The story peers up at colonial society from the gutter, rather than down from the balcony of high politics. It is about ordinary, everyday life and, as such, is a study in power relations as they took shape on the ground and in the street, amidst the intricacies of French colonial rule, religious difference, and class discrepancy. This volume offers the first English translation of Vitalis Danon’s best-known work. Professors Lia Brozgal and Sarah Abrevaya Stein, editors to the English edition, answer some of our questions about the novella below.
Who and what is the story of Ninette of Sin Street about?
LIA BROZGAL: Ninette tells the story of its titular protagonist, Ninette, a young Jewish woman living in the town of Sfax in the 1930s—a period during which Tunisia was under French rule. Ninette, as we learn, has grown up in poverty; she is an orphan making her way in a complicated, harsh world; she is destitute and has sometimes resorted to prostitution for a few coins. She is also the single mother of a little boy named Israel. Her primary concern, when the novella opens, is getting her son enrolled in the local Jewish school so that he can learn a trade and become, as Ninette says “honorable.” As she recounts her travails—always with a dose of pluck—we travel with her from the poor district of Sfax to Tunis, the capital, and back again as Ninette makes her way in the world.