F "Lion Mountain" by Mustapha Tlili (Tunisia) - Beyond Achebe: Reading the Continent

"Lion Mountain" by Mustapha Tlili (Tunisia)




Lion Mountain is a                             

novel of collisions

physical and spiritual

emotional and political 

urban and rural

French and Tunisian

dictators and villagers

mother and son

Ancient dirt and modernity

Religion and government


Bullets and flesh

Land and soul.


In the story, famed Tunisian author Mustapha Tlili paints a secluded village modeled on Feriana, the home of his youth. It’s an ancient place lost amidst the desert steppes but which has persisted through the centuries--sheltered always under the shoulder of Lion Mountain. He describes “a geography more than physical or human: sacred...In this mystical topography, landmarks determining the rights of each and every individual were perfectly clear.” The diviner of this sacred geography is the equally ancient Horia, a widow, a mother of two sons, a fierce defender who bears all of life’s adversity with a stoicism that is seemingly unbreakable. A woman who daily sees “the horizon of Lion Mountain...and what she admires is undoubtedly pride itself, eternity, even though in Horia’s heart and mind, there is but one name for eternity: God.”

Practically, the story takes the reader from the battlefields of World War II, to continued French rule, to Tunisia’s eventual freedom. It’s noteworthy, though, that for the villagers, freedom means little. If anything, the arrival of political freedom comes as an invasion of their own personal freedom as the villagers are pressured to pledge allegiance to “the party.” The arrival of the outside world sets the novel on a tragic arc as the forces of modernity smother the spiritual life from Horia and her household.

In Lion Mountain, Tlili has penned a tragic requiem for a world that is outwardly modernizing but inwardly decaying, casting out its true believers. As Horia laments in a letter to her son: “You set out in search of wisdom and knowledge; out of sacred duty you have become an exile. Are we not all exiles upon this earth?” This is the question that reflects the author’s own unrooted life as a Tunisan exile of sorts, a French writer, and a career UN bureaucrat who worked in New York City. In Horia’s case, as she refuses to let her sacred geography be ripped apart, we see echoes of the defiance that will become Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution decades later.

Key Quotes:

9 A geography more than physical or human: sacred...In this mystical topography, landmarks determining the rights of each and every individual were perfectly clear.

13 The horizon of Lion Mountain...and what she admires is undoubtedly pride itself, eternity, even though in Horia’s heart and mind, there is but one name for eternity: God.

18 “like the weight of centuries” describing both Horia but also her house. e

80 “Time passes, pain is forgotten, horror is forgotten. Only by remaining silent in the face of horror may we escape it.” This is Horia’s outlook her whole life. This is the opposite of what most society believes about confronting horrors and injustice in life.

134 “All because of that extraordinary ability with which the Lord has endowed him: the ability to forget. To forget. To forgive.” This is Horia’s logic on the only way a human being can enjoy happiness and wisdom.

140 “You set out in search of wisdom and knowledge; out of sacred duty you have become an exile. Are we not all exiles upon this earth? Is not dust our natural abode?” Horia in a letter to her oldest son.

141 “Believe me, nothing brings us distinction in this life, be it here at home or abroad, except our humanity.” Horia to her son as she explains all that matters is how one treats, particularly the weaker ones.

Key Takeaways
  • “A thousand futures lost”
  • l'éditeur tunisien Faouzi Daldoul (Elyzad): "la culture maternelle tunisienne, la culture française dont il nourrit son écriture et la culture américaine, notamment celle de New York où il a longtemps travaillé comme fonctionnaire des Nations Unies."
  • The Twin Towers were the author’s Lion Mountain as he discusses in an essay
32 Saad’s bravery became legendary when he fought for France but it also became his greatest weakness.

75-6 The key to survival in the village by Lion Mountain has always been an ability to endure hardship, to calibrate their limits. Struggle is just a given fact that exists as central to every villager’s life...all in the shelter of Lion Mountain.

Key References:

CONVERSATION

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