Burning up the straits.

I’ve been raiding the “international authors” section of my public library for about a month and I must say, I’ve found a number of interesting works of fiction. One such novel, Leaving Tangier by Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun impressed the heck out of me. I am quite indebted to my library for allowing me the opportunity to not only read a good book, but a book from another country. I am always grateful for these opportunities to learn about other cultures through eyes of a native.

The picture Jelloun paints of Morocco is a bleak one. Politically stifling and economically stagnant, few if any desirable opportunities exist for the country’s young people. With few prospects other than hanging out in coffee shops all day dreaming of entering Spain illegally by leaky boat, (called “burning up the straits” by the locals), or succumbing to the seductive offers of Islamists bent on recruiting foot soldiers in the fight for global jihad, the young Azel accepts an offer to leave Tangier and move to Spain to live with wealthy but mercurial Miguel as his assistant and considerably reluctant lover. Not only does Jelloun’s book follow Azel’s bitter adventures in his adopted land, but also those of his sister and other characters who have gone to Spain in search of a better life. Without saying too much, when it’s all said and done there are no happy endings for anyone.

Leaving Tangier reminded me a lot one of my favorite American novels, The Sheltering Sky by the late Paul Bowles.  In the Sheltering Sky, an American couple naively leaves the mundane but relatively safe United States to seek adventure and freedom in Morocco, only to be overwhelmed and ultimately destroyed by its harsh and unforgiving landscape. In Jelloun’s novel, it is the visiting Moroccans who are crushed by the West. To me, this begs the question of which world is more civilized and accommodating-North or South ?

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11 Comments

Filed under Area Studies/International Relations, Fiction, Islam

11 responses to “Burning up the straits.

  1. A difficult question to answer. I know so little about Morocco – I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set there, let alone one by a Moroccan author. I’m adding this to my list.

  2. JoV

    I am astounded to find a blog like yours, a blog so similar like mine, (I meant that as compliment! LOL). You read religious books, Tahar Ben Jelloun and then you amazed me by reading both books which I inspire so much to read: Leaving Tangiers and Map of the Invisible World (Tash Aw)!!!

    I read Ben Jelloun’s The Blinding Absence of Light and The Last Friends. Absolutely love the first one, life changing. Also Malika Oufkir’s La Prisonneire is good(Morocco).

    I read a lot about Middle East, Morocco and Asian Literature, and spent quite a big part of me reading religious books prior to blogging days.

    Definitely book marking your blog! Can’t miss out on someone who read so many non-fictions! 🙂

  3. Thanks for the kind words ! Thanks also for making me chuckle a bit-yes our blogs are incredibly similar !
    I’m a little behind in my blogging and my reading, but your message has inspired me. Thank you.

  4. What’s considered civilized is relative. North or South may not necessarily be better than the other. Besides, the grass is often greener on the other side.

    I was 11 when my family visited Morocco so I don’t remember much except the blue doors, heat, and border guards carrying machine guns. My knowledge and reading about Islam and that region is fairly basic so Leaving Tangier and Islam Explained sound like really interesting reads.

  5. They sound it. Thanks, that’d be great and appreciated.

  6. Thanks for reviewing this – I’m adding this one to my wish list – it sounds intense but if it’s anything like This Blinding Absence of Light, I’m sure it will be worth it. I’ve often looked at The Sheltering Sky in the library and wondered what that would be like. I can relate to your appreciation of your library, I am regularly blown away by my local library and the fantastic selection of books they have – I’d be lost without it!

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