Tunisia's national poet is Abu el-Kacem el-Chabbi (also spelled Ab-dulkacem Chebbi; 1909-34), whose rousing poem Will to Live is taught to every schoolchild. From Tozeur, he was educated at Tunis' Zaytouna Mosque. He died aged only 25, but his poetry had a huge impact. Combining the classical Arabic tradition with a landscape-inspired Romanticism, it expresses the stultifying sense of living under a colonial power. To read more, get his collected works Songs of Life.

His contemporary Ali Duaji (1909-49) wrote fascinating, urbane sketches of early 20th-century Tunisia, influenced by Twain, Camus and Flaubert. Good reads include Bar-Hopping along the Mediterranean - an amused, ironic view of colonial culture - and Sleepless Nights.

Most modern Tunisian writers live in Europe, where the financial rewards are greater and the dangers arising from offending the government fewer. Mustapha Tlili (1937-), based in New York, is most famous for Lion Mountain (1988), a character-packed examination of postcolonial mores and the impact of modernity on a remote, imaginary mountain village. You won't find this controversial text on sale in Tunisia. The internationally acclaimed Albert Memmi lives in Paris and writes in French about the identity crisis faced by North African Jews like himself. His books include The Colonizer and the Colonized, about the political, social and sexual impact of the French occupation of Tunisia. From a Bedouin family, Hassouna Mosbahi (shordisted for the 2001 Caine Prize for African writing) lives in Germany, and his works include Adieu Rosalie and Return to Tarshish, both dealing with the tragedy of an exile lost between two worlds.

Sabiha Khemir's Waiting in the Future for the Past to Come is a series of connected stories about a small coastal town postindependence.

You should be able to track down most of the above in English translation. If you read French, you'll have access to still more works.

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