Our Lives are but Stories: Narratives of Tunisian-Israeli Women

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Our Lives Are But Stories explores the crucial role of personal storytelling in the lives of a unique generation of women—Jewish women who left the Muslim country of Tunisia to settle in the newly created Israeli state. To this day, the older generation of Tunisian Israelis continues to rely on storytelling as a form of education, entertainment, and socialization. But for women this art has taken on new dimensions, especially as they seek to impart their values to the young. Here Esther Schely-Newman expertly interweaves the personal accounts of the private lives of four Tunisian-Israeli women to analyze the rich complexities of communication. She considers how various approaches to narration reflect storytelling as a cultural phenomenon and highlights the need to understand stories in the contexts in which they are told.

The four narrators grew up in a culture in which women’s stories were confined to the private sphere, were usually told to other women, and were supposedly fiction—or at least metaphors masking their real lives. Forced migration to farming communities in Israel and the shock of being uprooted created new identities for women and new outlets for storytelling. Women narrators increasingly began to tell more openly of their personal lives. Schely-Newman organizes her narrators’ accounts by the themes of childhood, marriage, motherhood, immigration, and old age and considers a wide range of factors that shape the narration, including audience, intent, choice of language, and Jewish-Muslim culture. The result is a fascinating blend of analysis, narration, and history.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Esther Schely-Newman is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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Table of Contents

Preface 7
Introduction 9
1 Childhood 29
Becoming a Woman 30
Going to School 34
Personal Narrative in Family Settings 37
A Joint Venture 43
Strategies of Contention 45
What If She Can Tell Her Story 49
2 Marriage 51
Judeo-Tunisian Weddings 52
Finding One's Luck 62
Getting Married 64
Fighting or Accepting? 69
Performance as Boundary Setting 72
Tales of Love, Tales of Fate 75
3 Motherhood 77
Being a Jewish Woman 78
Discourse of Procreation 81
Male Exclusion 84
How Stories Are Born: Conversational Narratives 87
What Is the Text? 94
Once a Mother, Always a Mother 95
4 Immigration 97
Women's Stories: Truth and Genre 98
Choosing to Immigrate 101
Encountering Reality: A Nightly Arrival 104
Taking Charge: Life Changes 106
Armed Women: Active Protection 108
"Instant" Transformation 114
Gaining a Voice: Entitlement to an Audience 117
A New Woman? 118
5 Everyone's Grandmother 121
Being an Older Woman 122
Mores and Values 130
Talking as Old Women 133
Women of Valor 149
Conclusion 151
App Full Narrative Texts 163
1 Biya in School 165
2 Therese in the Well 169
3 Biya Wins Shimon 171
4 Bread, Shabbat, and Miscarriage 173
5 Women and Guns 1 179
6 Women and Guns 2 183
7 Mama Kuka's Story 187
Notes 191
Bibliography 203
Index 219
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