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Ribald, earthy, immensely entertaining and funny, this novel creates a wonderfully rich picture of contrasting worlds and cultural conflict as East meet West.
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Nostalgia for an imagined past drives this fable-like first novel of diaspora and return, winner of the 1996 Best Literary Debut Prize in Holland and the Best First Novel in a Foreign Language award in France. Lamarat Minar's father moved the family to Ollanda (Holland) when Lamarat was six months old and his mother was pregnant with his sister. Nineteen years later Lamarat and his family have returned to their native village in North Africa for his sister Rebekka's marriage to their uncle Mosa, who is looking to emigrate with a lovely young bride. When Mosa panics and races off to his favorite brothel the morning of the scheduled wedding, Lamarat is sent to find him. He enlists the help of local cab driver Chalid, whose running internal commentary functions as a Greek chorus to the drama unfolding in Iwojen. After Mosa is finally rounded up, Rebekka stages a "wedding" of her own in a violent confrontation that has elements of ritual sacrifice. Benali perfectly captures the shaky ground on which memory stands: Lamarat dreams of the North African life he might have lived as a Parcheesi champion; his father sends money to build a dream house that turns out to be rapidly falling into ruin, much like the family itself. Episodes of exile, family betrayal and violent catharsis are spiced with elements of magical realism. Lamarat can hear his unborn sister talking to him from the womb, saying "Lamarat, you little twerp, are you out there, can you hear me?" Benali's habit of interweaving songs with dialogue and narrative causes some confusion, but despite occasional difficulties in comprehension, the novel offers a colorful look at North African life and a playful appreciation of the backward-looking dreams of immigrants everywhere.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This unusual debut by a young Moroccan-born Dutch writer, which won major literary prizes in Holland and France, is a fragmented family chronicle doled out in stories shared by young Lamarat Minar and the garrulous taxi-driver Bucket of Bolts Chalid, who plays a raffish Sancho Panza to Lamarat's reluctant quixotic searcher. Called home (from Holland) to his family's native village (Iwojen), Lamarat is entrusted with rescuing his renegade uncle Mosa (a sybaritic Zorba the Moroccan, you might say) from the local whores, in time for Mosa's (arranged) marriage to Lamarat's virginal sister Rebekka. The novel's rather forced earthiness scores intermittently, but is undercut by an inexplicably violent climactic action (intended to save Mosa from a life of fornifuckation with other women) and by a subtext that hints at (though Benali fails to develop) both the Minar family's submerged passive-aggressiveness and Lamarat's pretty evident misogyny. The result is a story that seems to withhold at least as much as it reveals. BA -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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