Cécile Oumhani was born in Namur, Belgium of a Scottish and Belgian mother and a French father. She grew up speaking English and French. Then she developed very strong ties with Tunisia through her marriage. She was a senior lecturer at the University of Paris-Est Créteil for many years. She is now a full-time writer.
She is a novelist and a poet. Her writing often explores different places and cultures. Her ties with Tunisia have nourished several of her books. She participates in many literary events in France and abroad. She collaborates with literary journals such as La Traductière, Babelmed and Words Without Borders. She is a member of the editorial board of Siècle 21.
She received the Prix européen francophone Virgile 2014 for her work as a whole, after receiving the Prix littéraire européen de l’ADELF in 2009 for Le café d’Yllka, the Special Mention of the Franco-Indian Gitanjali Prize and the Prix de la Bastide in 2013, for L’atelier des Strésor, as well as the Prix Grain de Sel for Une odeur de henné in 2013.
New publications in English
Her novel Tunisian Yankee was published by Elyzad in September 2016.
Winter 1917. An American Army camp near Saint-Nazaire
The hoarfrost on the trees and their foliage dazzled him early this morning, before the ice mist swallowed up the light and its reflection. Many of them hurry to the mess, eager for a hot drink. He rubs his reddened fingers, as he waits to be served. Someone pushes behind him… But this happens so often. Absorbed in his thoughts, his cup between his palms, he makes for the table. He does not pay attention to the rattling of cutlery or the buzz of conversations. Nor does he notice the dull sound of trampling feet behind him. A shrill voice shouts.
« You, sand-nigger ! »
His ears ring. A veil darkens his view.
The four syllables echo in his head. Sand-nigger… He translates mentally, amplifying the explosion. Sand-nigger… The bullets ricochet around in his skull. A mirror is shattered into thousands of fragments.
The two canteen-women stare wide-eyed behind the counter. The boys leave the line. A dark circle tightens its noose around him. They all stare, a mocking look in their eyes. They would not miss one second of the starting fight.
“Please stop, Dawood! You know it’s not worth it.”
Vincenzo stands up. He digs his fingers into the flesh of his arm, clutching.
“For God’s sake! Let me go! You don’t understand.”
The tall, distinguished man leaps forward. His dark eyes, usually so gentle, flash with anger. He rushes at the muscle man facing him, who is itching to come to blows.
The cup of hot chocolate lies on its side, in front of Vincenzo’s coffee. The spilt drink is dripping on the floor.
“Come closer if you dare, sand-nigger!”
He spits out the words. They hiss out from his lips. He looks Dawood up and down, his pasty face contracted in grim determination.
Beside himself, Dawood pounces on his attacker. His woolen kepi flies off and lands among the tables. If only he could crush the arrogance of his jaw and defeat the scorn oozing out of him. In his eyes, he is nothing more than dust. But he is breathing and alive, whether he likes it or not. Yes, he is alive and thinking. Even if everywhere, he has been rejected and rebuffed. And yes, he will raise his head whatever happens. He will, no matter the price to pay. He will go across this cursed planet, over the mountains and through the valleys, in search of a piece of land to lay his feet and have his place in the sun…
Taken by surprise, as he was not expecting such a spectacular response, he receives a first punch across the chin. He doubles over, struck by another at the pit of his stomach. Then he bounds up and hits Dawood with full force, growling.
Vincenzo waves his raised arms, runs around them, begs but in vain. The small, thin man has to move back.
A thick, salty liquid is running on Dawood’s lips. A scarlet screen obscures his vision. The scene fades away. How long? He could not say. Hands get hold of him and pin him down to the ground. A burning sense of injustice keeps rushing over and over to his heart. If he could speak and make himself heard. All this for a cup of chocolate! And I should have let him pass. Just because he is white…
He purposely gave me a shove. He did it purposely, just as I was putting my cup on the table. He pushed my elbow. Because for him… Because he… The military police officers have handcuffed him. Smuts wipes his face, straightens himself up and thanks those who are asking for his health.
Her book Passeurs de rives was published by La Tête à l’Envers in May 2015.
Mango leaves gently rustle
across time and places
years I cannot count
as distant words whisper
down the empty street
Telugu French and English
far away and yet so close
I could almost touch them
the lights of Chennai
flicker one November evening
a long heard childhood tale
come true as the plane lands
deep green foliage arching branches
across the pavement
so like the sepia photos
in the old embossed album
my mother treasured
in another country across the oceans
do things ever cease being
or do they stay on
waiting to be revisited
faint sounds and fragrances wafted
colours fleeting in the night air
never quite imprinted
on the sepia photos
and yet as unmistakable
as the sound of lost voices