Mokhtefi (Paris: An Illustrated History, 2002) offers a memoir of international radical activism, from helping Algeria and Africa shake the yoke of colonialism to helping the Black Panthers establish a revolutionary outpost in exile.
The narrative sometimes reads like a memoir of high society, though the glamorous names include Eldridge Cleaver (with whom the author had a close and complicated relationship), Timothy Leary, Frantz Fanon, Jean-Luc Godard, and Simone de Beauvoir. It was an era derided by Tom Wolfe as “radical chic,” when revolutionary militancy became a fashion statement and a New York girl who presented herself as innocent as well as idealistic could find herself in the center of it all. “Life was exciting and eventful,” writes Mokhtefi. “I was the fly on the window, looking in, beating its wings.” As a translator and facilitator whose adventures took her from New York to Paris to Algeria to elsewhere in Africa, the author found herself getting relationship tips from Fanon, who had asked her what she wanted; she replied, “to put my head on someone’s shoulder.” Not revolutionary enough, he responded and counseled her to “stay upright on your own two feet and keep moving forward to goals of your own.” Thus she did, though one senses that the sexual tension with Cleaver might have amounted to something if he hadn’t declared her off-limits for everyone, including himself (making her apparently the only female to whom he was attracted that he considered off-limits). Mokhtefi has mixed feelings about the man whose life he credited her with saving and whom she considered a great revolutionary leader early on. He beat his wife, he murdered a man for having a sexual relationship with his wife, and he “had a reputation for throwing fat on the fire,” taking dangerous situations and making them more dangerous. Still, “despite the things about him I despised—his killer instinct, his womanizing—I admired the man.”
A firsthand account of a time when so much seemed up for grabs.