TO HELL AND BACK by Samira Bellil


The Life of Samira Bellil
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Disturbing account of the author’s adolescence in Seine-Saint-Denis, a Parisian suburb crowded with low-rent high-rises and misguided youth.

Her parents, immigrants from Algiers, were critical and violent, often punishing Bellil by throwing her into the streets despite the dangers they knew lurked there. Neglected and rebellious, she was only 13 when she fell in with a neighborhood gang, 14 when they gang-raped her. Steeped in misguided traditions and worried about their reputations, her family and friends abandoned her and even blamed her for the rape. When she finally found the courage to break the neighborhood code of silence and file charges, the police and lawyers assigned to the case were indifferent and lazy, further instilling in Bellil a sense of bitter hopelessness. In gritty, vivid language, the author describes the rage she felt at facing her situation alone, the numbing relief of drugs, her increasing inability to keep mind and body whole. “[Acting out] was the only means I had,” she writes, “to vomit up the suffering that suffocated and devoured me so physically it was as if I were being eaten up by worms.” She suffered epileptic seizures, spent years in shelters, hospitals and the streets; her home was filled with tension, blame and alcohol-fueled altercations with her parents. Bellil often dreamed of the idyllic time she’d spent with a Belgian foster family while her father was in prison, and memories of that unconditional love kept her working toward a new life. She eventually found help in psychotherapy and wrote this memoir as part of her emotional recovery. Its publication in 2002 put the author at the forefront of a movement to force French officials to acknowledge and address the overlooked violence against young women in its squalid banlieues.

A sad but fitting memorial to Bellil, who died of stomach cancer at age 31 in 2004.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8032-1356-2
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Bison/Univ. of Nebraska
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2008