Hearing the Wound: Testimony and Trauma in Assia Djebar’s La Femme sans Sepulture (The Woman without a Grave)

Lobna Ben Salem


Traumatic legacies, when unaddressed, continue to haunt the psyches and cultural collectives not only of survivors, but also of subsequent generations. As these legacies are transmitted across multiple generations, they inevitably return and disrupt human bonds. Testimony, in its curative capacity, allows recovery from the traumatic event. In the Algerian context, however, because the historic accounts of war have undermined the trauma that women experienced, by simply excluding them from any public discourse, the possibility of testimony for the victimized women was thwarted, and with it the ability of working through their trauma and recovering. In La Femme sans Sépulture (2002), Assia Djebar, the Algerian female writer, is concerned with this lingering wound of war and how to break history’s great silence over its devastating effects on women’s lives. Through the fictional world it created, her story offers a plethora of testimonies, released from bodily or psychic wounds, all female and trans-generational, concerning the female traumatic experiences of violence and death. The heroine Zoulikha, killed but never found or entombed, parades the story as a ghost that is conjured up by a number of female characters who, in their need to resurrect her, give voice to their missing testimonies that have been for so long muted or muffled. This paper will investigate the extent to which storytelling can ensure working through trauma and promote trans-generational psychic healing.


trauma, testimony, female storytelling, memory, Algerian war of independence.

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