Dora Latiri, Citrons doux : l’Aînée, Sousse: Contraste Editions, collection “Tsawar”, 2020, 95 pages. ISBN 978-9973-878-69-4. www.contraste.tn
In Citrons doux, Dora Latiri (Sousse, 1957) offers us a beautifully written account of pieces her life, through the memory of her eldest sister, l’âinée, whom she pays homage to. Like her previous photographic autofictional account, Un amour de tn, Citrons doux combines beautiful photographs in black and white with various languages, and scripts. All of it endows the account with a richness that is unapologetically founded on multiplicity, diversity, even contradiction. Dora uses collage and evokes the figure of the matryoshka to enhance the multi-layered nature of memory and history. She plays with light, with words and sayings which signal the journeys back and forth in time, across different spaces and lieux de mémoire.
The pages of Citrons doux are full of food and recipes—the sweet lemons which give the account its title being the eldest sister’s favourite fruit—of songs, flowers, and books in different languages—a shelf with Mourid Barghouti’s رأيت رام الله, I saw Ramallah, J’ai vu Ramallah side by side—all of which evoke distinct memories and emotions. Dora’s work exudes nostalgia, tenderness, pain, love. It’s an act of mourning, of remembrance, of deliberation: “Through the memory of my eldest sister, of the moments we shared and of my experience of migration, I evoke a Tunisia of the past. I search for what is gone, what remains, and what is to come” (“À travers le souvenir de ma soeur âinée et de nos années partagées et à travers mon vécu migrant, c’est une Tunisie du temps passé que j’évoque. J’y cherche ce qui s’en va, ce qui demeure, ce qui vient”, p. 12).
In this search, many reflections emerge. She enquires into kinship bonds, and more specifically about the relationship between sisters: “Among the words to name the relationships between sisters there is mutual understanding and rivalry, love and jealousy, contradictory words which come in pairs” (“Parmi les mots pour dire les relations entre soeurs il y a complicité et rivalité, amour et jalousie, des mots contradictoires qui viennent par paires”, p. 11). Dora then continues to explore the cultural and symbolic meanings attached to eldest siblings in Tunisia, where they often still represent a parent (“Chez nous, trop souvent encore, l’âiné.e est aussi un père, une mère”, ibid). And she ends up playing with words in the different languages that inhabit her world: “My father and mother used to call their respective eldest brother sidi, which I translate into English as sir, which comes back to me as an homophone echo of the word soeur [sister, in French]” (“Mon père et ma mère appelaient chacun leur frère âiné sidi, que je traduis en anglais par sir et qui me revient en écho homophone du mot soeur”, ibid).
Through her eldest sister’s passions and routines, Dora takes the reader to the so-called Karraka, the Citadel that the Spaniards began to build when they invaded Tunis in 1535, and that the Ottomans continued to develop after they took over the Spaniards, and where she confesses to have always imagined Cervantes imprisoned (p. 80). Dora’s account weaves fragments of history, her own story, individual as well as collective memory. The fort is located at the port which—as in many Maghrebi coastal locations—protected the capital from the perils of the open sea; its French name, La Goulette, derives from La Goletta, the Italian translation of the Arabic Halq al-Wad, literally ‘the river’s throat’, where Dora grew up. But the linguistic mix which results from the superposed layers of history does not end here: Karraka has come to mean ‘prison’ in Tunisian Arabic, although it probably derives from the Spanish carraca or the Italian caracca, the name of an early-modern Mediterranean vessel which the imperial Spanish and Ottoman armies used in their fight for the control of the North African coast. In Barg el-Lil (1961), a historical novel by the Tunisian writer Bachir Khreyif set in the turbulent events before and after the Spanish invasion, the protagonist—a Central African slave—calls in the Citadel after he has escaped his master Sidi Ahmed b. al-Nakhli, the man whom Cervantes metafictionally claimed to have authored El Quijote. Dora is arguably not alone in having pictured Cervantes in the Goulettian Karraka. Indeed, as does Khreyif’s historical novel, Citrons doux signals asymmetrical relations and processes, and at the same time claims to be heir to a historical and cultural polyphony—à la ‘Abdelkebir Khatibi.
The memory of the city places frequented by Dora’s elder sister—Kawther Latiri—reveals transformations in the recent history of Tunisia, too. A street that used to be called Yugoslavia is now named after Radhia Haddad, a Tunisian feminist activist, Dora writes (p. 81). The decade-long Tunisian revolution has indeed impacted urban nomenclature. It has also led to the emergence of new debates – around race and blackness, for example, which are long silenced issues which Barg el-Lil, the novel with the enslaved black hero, arguably set to break. The revolutionary trail likewise enhanced the breaking of the taboo of acknowledging having suffered sexual harassment and violence, leading to the establishment of ‘Ena Zeda’, a Tunisian ‘Me Too’ of sorts. Dora courageously joins many Tunisian (and world) women: “1986. I’m in London for some months, I’m working as an editor, I’ve left Paris, I’ve run away from a violent husband […] EnaZeda (“1986. Je suis à Londres pour quelques mois, je travaille dans l’édition, j’ai quitté Paris, j’ai fui un mari violent […] EnaZeda, p. 61).
The motto ‘the personal is political’ is subsumed in Dora’s account, and that makes the reader—my reader self, at least—identify with the writer, her experience and back-looking gaze, and more importantly, it encourages empathy with the intricacies of human(e) experience, of genealogy, migration and exile, orphanhood, nostalgia—and many more profound issues with which Dora deals with as much simplicity as beauty. Citrons doux is a touching, aesthetically, and narratively powerful book.
 For a review of the book in French, see: Bourkhis, Ridha, “‘Citrons doux : l’Aînée’, photoautobiographie de Dora Latiri : Ombres et lumières”, La Presse, published 1 May 2021, https://lapresse.tn/95919/citrons-doux-lainee-photoautobiographie-de-dora-latiri-ombres-et-lumieres/?fbclid=IwAR3-CBpA82CI-FxOXFNTPWv4IZE5cSZOKBHjfltIHWiw3w4vgV2KbNA49Qc [accessed 20 May, 2021].
 Latiri, Dora, Un amour de tn. Carnet photographique d’un retour au país natal après la Révolution (Tunis: elyzad, 2013). For a review in French, see: Bourkhis, Ridha, “‘Un amour de tn. Carnet photographique d’un retour au país natal après la Révolution, de Dora Latiri: ‘Je suis d’ici et j’ai des souvenirs!’”, La Presse, published 3 April 2021, https://lapresse.tn/92952/un-amour-de-tn-carnet-photographique-dun-retour-au-pays-natal-apres-la-revolution-de-dora-latiri-je-suis-dici-et-jai-des-souvenirs/?fbclid=IwAR0xD4Gy3G_B9POvRCmU3pVAt4acvBJEOjcpPoksVKb3KaaZZZQKO6e_4jw#.YGh7sBRpH8M.facebook [accessed 20 May, 2021].
 Barg el-Lil echoes the Tunisian pronunciation instead of the Modern Standard Arabic one. Khreyif, Bachir, Barq al-Layl (Tunis: Dār al-Janūb, 2000 ). The novel was translated into Spanish in the early 1980s and into French only very recently: Jrayyef, Bas̆īr, Barg el-Līl, trans. Ana Ramos (Madrid: Instituto Hispano-Arabe de Cultura, 1982); Khraïef, Béchir, Barg Ellil, trans. Ahmed Gasmi (Tunis: Éditions Arabesques, 2017).
 Khatibi, Abdelkebir, Maghreb pluriel (Paris: Denol, 1983).