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Sophie Adamson examines impact of Francophone author in new book

How does one man serve as a voice for minority populations in a nation where it can be difficult for immigrants to feel welcome? And how do his lessons from France resonate for cultures around the globe? Sophie Adamson, an assistant professor of French, explores those questions in her first published book, Ethics, Politics and Poetics in Tahar Ben Jelloun’s Harrouda, La Réclusion solitaire and L’Ange aveugle.

Based on her doctoral research, the book dissects three works by Tahar Ben Jelloun, a prominent French author and newspaper columnist who immigrated in the early 1970s to France from Morocco. Since then he has penned dozens of acclaimed books, poems and columns for the French newspaper Le Monde.

“He touches his readers on so many levels,” Adamson said in a recent interview. “He opens minds and presents new perspectives about his cultures. Inevitably, we take a fresh look at our own culture as a result.”

Adamson explains for her readers how Ben Jelloun – who wrote the preface to her book – reconciles politics and poetics in the three works as he makes way for the voices of Maghrebi culture.

In doing so, Adamson focuses on books that represent a largely diversified geopolitical space: Harrouda (1973) and the cultural tensions between ancestral and modern Morocco; La Réclusion solitaire (1976) and the psycho-physical drama of migrant workers in multicultural France; and L’Ange aveugle (1992) and the tragic consequences of organized crime in southern Italy.

Over the nearly two decades between Harrouda and L’Ange aveugle, Ben Jelloun has continued to write poetically while maintaining a narrative thread, Adamson said. His works appeal to audiences world-wide as they are translated in over 30 languages.

“He certainly gets people talking and reacting,” said Adamson, who uses excerpts of Ben Joullen’s novels and poems in her classes to teach students the power of literature in shaping cultural norms. “I feel strongly about what he brings to his work, and I think our students are absolutely capable and ready. And Elon is a perfect place to bring my research into the classroom.”

Colleagues in the Department of Foreign Languages praise Adamson not only for the connections she forges with students, but also for her eagerness to reach beyond her own research to show interest in what others do.

”Sophie is very interested in making what people do inside the classroom have a reward or long term benefit beyond the Elon experience,” said David Neville, an assistant professor of German and director of Language Learning Technologies. “She’s an accessible, friendly, caring colleague and certainly a warm and caring human being.”

A native of Princeton, N.J., Adamson joined the Elon faculty in 2005 after completing her doctorate in French literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She serves as the French section head for the Department of Foreign Languages and was a faculty researcher in 2008-2009 for the Elon Teaching and Learning Partnership.

Adamson was also named a service-learning faculty scholar in 2007-2008 and volunteers as the faculty advisor for the French Housing Learning Community and the French Club.

She focuses her research on contemporary French and Francophone literature, as well as the question of identity in contemporary France and the study of social criticism through humor in literature, media and film.

“I want students to hear as often as possible how important literature is to bringing us insights. It’s a different avenue,” Adamson said. “We’re used to learning from information such as the news, but it's important to also be exposed to literature and poetry that can teach and touch the mind and spirit.”

Assistant professor Sophie Adamson
Eric Townsend,
2/2/2010 3:54 PM