Montreal writer, literary critic and professor Naïm Kattan (1928-) was born in Baghdad, Iraq, at a time when the life of the city was marked by a strong Jewish presence. After studying law at the University of Baghdad, he received a scholarship from the French government in 1947 to study literature at Université Paris I – La Sorbonne.To escape the rising tide of Arab nationalism and anti-Semitism, he decided to immigrate to Canada in 1954, as did many other Jews living in Arab countries.
In the 1950s, Montreal’s Jewish community was predominantly English-speaking, and Kattan observed the difficulty it had in integrating the new French-language immigrants. (It should be noted that the linguistic situation began to shift in the 1970s, with the community now solidly bilingual.) As a writer, Kattan has published some thirty books in French, including the semi-autobiographical novels Adieu, Babylone (1975; translated as Farewell, Babylon, 1976), Les Fruits arrachés (1977; translated as Paris Interlude, 1979) and La Fiancée promise (1983). Widely translated, his works examine such issues as cultural difference, exile, belonging and nostalgia for lost origins. Kattan was an active member of the Cercle juif de langue française, created in the early 1950s by the Canadian Jewish Congress as the first French-language Jewish cultural association in Canada. Also through the CJC, he founded the Bulletin du Cercle juif, a newspaper for the French-speaking Jewish community, and worked to build bridges between Quebec’s Jewish and French-speaking communities. Kattan went on to write a literary column in Le Devoir, and for close to 25 years he headed the writing and publishing division of the Canada Council for the Arts. Over the course of his career, he has been awarded numerous distinctions, including the Order of Canada, the Ordre du Québec and the J. I. Segal Award for Literature.
Success has made Naïm Kattan an iconic figure in Montreal’s Sephardic community. His contribution to Quebec literature has been considerable: his unique and internationalist perspective has enabled Quebecers to discover the diversity that exists within the province’s Jewish community.
Compiled by Valérie Beauchemin, translated by Helge Dascher.
Kattan, Naïm. Voices of Canadian Jews: Thirty-six Accomplished Men and Women Speak Out on Politics, Patriotism, Religion and Sex. Bryan M. Knight, and Rachel Alkallay. Montreal: The Chessnut Press. 1988. 151-166.
Ljiljana, Matic. « Naïm Kattan: Écrivain de passage et passeur de cultures. » Pierre Morel (dir.) Parcours québécois : introduction à la littérature du Québec, Bucarest : Cartier. 2007
Hodgson, Richard G. "Naim Kattan (26 August 1928-)." Canadian Writers Since 1960: First Series. Ed. William H. New. Vol. 53. Detroit: Gale, 1986. 238-240. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 53. Dictionary of Literary Biography Complete Online.
« Naïm Kattan » The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Smith, Mackay L. Jews of Montréal and Their Judaism : A Voyage of Discovery. Montreal: Aaron Communications. 1998.
*Images courtesy of the Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives and the Jewish Public Library Archives.