Theses Doctoral

Toward a Transmediterranean Genealogy: Matrilineal Legacies in Sephardi Women Writers from the Former Yugoslavia and the Maghreb

Pekov, Alex

This project focuses on the autofictional family novels, crafted from the mid-1970s onwards through the early 2000s in French and Serbian by the women writers of Jewish Sephardi origin, born in the French-ruled Maghreb (Annie Cohen, Annie Fitoussi, Nine Moati, Gisèle Halimi) and ex-Yugoslavia (Frida Filipović and Gordana Kuić), respectively. It is situated at the many intersections of Slavic, Jewish, Gender, and Memory Studies.

Through the lens of feminist and decolonizing interpretive strategies, I analyze and connect these texts as a translingual and largely unknown archive of Sephardi women’s contemporary writing. Applying the methodological took-kit of Comparative Literature, I unsettle and frustrate a narrowly conceptualized—monolingual and mono-ethnic—vision of literary production. This emerging archive carves out a space in which the uniqueness and difference—ethno-cultural and gender, alike—of Sephardi women’s lived experiences throughout the 20th century becomes foregrounded in the full complexity of their poetics against the politics of erasure, silencing, invisibilization, and oblivion. 

In this connective and comparative thesis, I re-discover the corpus as a transmediterranean feminist project, which destabilizes the notion of literary canon and articulates its anti-ethnocentric instantiations. Additionally, I tease out Sephardi identity as a tenuous and performative phenomenon, produced in and through the act of writing by the generation of Sephardi daughters, as they grapple with ambiguous and provocative maternal legacies. Language or, more precisely, languages themselves—Serbian and French, traversed, interspersed with, if not interrupted by Judeo-Spanish/Djudezmo, Spanish, and Judeo-Arabic—serve as the crucial poetic means of this identity performance. Finally, the corpus under my scrutiny performs what Marianne Hirsch deems postmemorial work, in that it harbors and preserves the memories of the foremothers in the narrative flow of these autofictional matrifocal family novels, which are, in turn, to be remembered by the reader.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Slavic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Izmirlieva, Valentina B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 13, 2022