Published in Tunis in 1938, Ninette of Sin Street is one of the first works of Tunisian fiction in French. Ninette's author, Vitalis Danon, arrived in Tunisia under the aegis of the Franco-Jewish organization the Alliance Israélite Universelle and quickly adopted—and was adopted by—the local community.
Ninette is an unlikely protagonist: Compelled by poverty to work as a prostitute, she dreams of a better life and an education for her son. Plucky and street-wise, she enrolls her son in the local school and the story unfolds as she narrates her life to the school's headmaster. Ninette's account is both a classic rags-to-riches tale and a subtle, incisive critique of French colonialism. That Ninette's story should still prove surprising today suggests how much we stand to learn from history, and from the secrets of Sin Street.
This volume offers the first English translation of Danon's best-known work. A selection of his letters and an editors' introduction and notes provide context for this cornerstone of Judeo-Tunisian letters.
About the authors
Vitalis Danon (1897–1957), born in Edirne (Adrianople) in the Ottoman Empire, spent much of his life in Sfax, Tunisia. A novelist, teacher, and school director for the Alliance Israélite Universelle, he is best known for Ninette of Sin Street, his last work of fiction.
Lia Brozgal is Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Univeristy of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of Against Autobiography: Albert Memmi and the Production of Theory (2013) and co-editor of Being Contemporary: French Literature, Culture and Politics Today (2016). Her work has been recognized by the American Council of Learned Societies, the University of California Presidential Grants, and the Camargo Foundation.
Sarah Abrevaya Stein is Professor of History and Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies at Univeristy of California, Los Angeles. Her recent books include Extraterritorial Dreams: European Citizenship, Sephardi Jews, and the Ottoman Twentieth Century (2016), Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria (2014), and Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700-1950 (2014).
Jane Kuntz holds a doctorate in French from the University of Illinois and is a translator of French-language fiction and nonfiction. Recent translations include A History of the Grandparents I Never Had, by Ivan Jablonka (2016); Islam and the Challenge of Civilization, by Abdelwahab Meddeb (2013); and Meddeb's experimental first novel, Talismano (2011). Kuntz lived and worked in Tunisia from 1975 until 1993 as a teacher and translator and as an educational adviser for AMIDEAST-Tunis.
"Any responsible teacher (or serious reader!) of modern Jewish literature already understands the urgency with which we need to find more diverse, compelling narratives that explore Jewish experiences throughout the Sephardi and Mizrahi diasporas. Vitalis Danon's Ninette seems, in this respect, almost too good to be true: a pioneering, charming Franco-Tunisian novella that manages, like the best monologues of Sholem Aleichem, to present us with the voice of one indefatigable, unforgettable Jewish woman, and through her, the complexities of Jewish life in a North African city."
—Josh Lambert, academic director, Yiddish Book Center, and author, Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture
"Ninette of Sin Street is a riveting tale of a poor unwed Jewish mother from Sfax struggling to provide for her son. Its intimate and intricate details, beautifully contextualized by Lia Brozgal and Sarah Abrevaya Stein, will fascinate and enrich all those interested in the paradoxes and power plays of colonial life when experienced from below."
—Frances Malino, Wellesley College
"Ninette of Sin Street, a novella by Vitalis Danon provides Anglophone readers with a rare window into Jewish life in interwar Tunisia. It also gives an excellent overview of the influence and legacy of the Alliance Isralite Universelle (AIU), a French-based institution that offered a European-style education to Jewish children across the Mediterranean basin in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries...Brozgal and Stein's introduction does an excellent job of introducing the reader to both Vitalis Danon and the history of the AIU...a valuable resource to both historians and literary scholars interested in Jewish life in the Maghreb in the age of colonialism."
—Nadia Malinovich, H-France Review
"Ninette of Sin Street is a precious resource as it brings us a taste of a world that is no more....The scholarly additions to the volume are also most valuable."
—Judith Roumani, Sephardic Horizons