Sharing Algerian Women’s Voices

French major Madison Kebler ’10 translates exiled author’s short stories

Madison Kebler '10"This is a world that is unknown to many English speakers. You can't get these perspectives from history books because Algerian history is not as accessible to us."
- Madison Kebler '10

When Madison Kebler ’10 finished high school, she swore she would never take another French course.

To her surprise, a Randolph College faculty advisor convinced her to use her Advanced Placement credit in the language and enroll in an intermediate level course. Now, not only is Kebler graduating a year early with a French major, she has almost finished her honors work—translating a book by Algerian author Maissa Bey.

Bey’s book features 11 short stories describing the lives of oppressed women in the Muslim country of Algeria. The stories in the book describe what it was like to be a woman in Algeria under fundamentalist rule in the 1980s and 1990s. The author went into exile, using the fake name of Bey to write more than 15 books in French. The situation has now changed in Algeria, but Bey’s stories provide a previously unheard account of the struggles of the Algerian women.

Kebler picked this particular book, Under the Jasmine at Night, because of its content and also because it has never been translated into English. Kebler hopes to publish the translation. “It’s important to make it available to others,” Kebler said. “This is a world that is unknown to so many English speakers. You can’t get these perspectives from history books because Algerian history is not as accessible to us.”

Francoise Watts, Kebler’s French professor, introduced her to the book during a course on North African literature. Reading the stories in French, Kebler found herself drawn to the struggles of the Algerian women. “This project just sort of developed and took on a life of its own,” said Kebler. “It started out as a way for me to challenge myself in my major, but it went far beyond that. This is something I am passionate about, and it has really given me the desire to keep translating, especially works like this. I want to bring them to life for people who do not speak French.”

Watts and Kebler have spent much of the year working closely together on her honors project.

The pair went over Kebler’s translation line-by-line, comparing it to the text. “We are a good team,” Watts said. “I understand the subtleties of French, and Madison captures the English way of saying that with poetry and the same subtlety. This type of thing is one of the reasons I enjoy teaching here. I don’t see it as work. It is pleasure.”

That type of bond is one of the reasons Kebler chose Randolph College. She knew the faculty worked closely with students on a regular basis. “Being able to work like this with a faculty member is an incredible opportunity,” Kebler said. “She has taught me so much in class and during this project. I never really thought I could become a French major. But the classes here, and the focus on literature analysis and writing, have taken my French and made it something that is a big part of me.”

She plans to attend law school and believes the language, coupled with the analytical and critical thinking skills she has developed at Randolph College through her study of French, will mesh perfectly with a legal career.

“Madison has a rare talent,” Watts said. “She is fluent in French and English and is able to bridge the gap between those two cultures. Translation is an art. You must make sure you do not betray the author, and you have to find the nuances and the poetry and make sure it is as good in the translation as in the original. It’s a real skill. Lots of French literature has not been translated, and we need to hear those voices. For Madison to be able to do this is quite remarkable.”