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Writing in an Enemy Language: L'analphabète by Agota Kristof


Writer Agota Kristof, born in Hungary in 1935 and living in exile in Switzerland since 1956, has recently published her autobiography, L'analphabète [The Illiterate] (2004). In this book she describes feeling illiterate during her first years in exile, as she struggled to master the French language. After five years, she came to realise that she needed to learn French if she wanted to integrate. Although the fact that her books are all written in French is evidence of her success, Kristof still considers French a langue ennemie [enemy language], one that is difficult to handle and is even killing her mother tongue. This essay examines Kristof's relationship to language, reading and writing by asking why she has chosen to write in French and how she writes in this langue ennemie. Comparing L'analphabète with an earlier German version of the text, it can be argued that the use of certain rhetorical and autobiographical blank spaces is a calculated decision and can be tied to issues of gender.

SvD, May 2009

  • Publications > Volumes WomenWriters > Crossroads of Languages > Schaefer

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