A brief, intensely focused portrayal of moral and psychological dissolution, by the Prix Goncourtwinning Moroccanborn novelist (With Downcast Eyes, 1993, etc.). Ben Jelloun's protagonist Mourad, a 40-year-old husband and father who lives in Casablanca and works as Deputy Director of Planning at his country's Ministry of Development, narrates in an increasingly agitated present-tense his unhappy experiences as ``a simple, good-natured man stifled by integrity.'' Refusing to cut corners or relax his penny-pinching routines, Mourad initially scorns a pragmatic subordinate's wheel-greasing and bribe-taking, or a supervisor's assurance that such ``flexibility'' actually constitutes ``a parallel economy'' that everyone but Mourad takes for granted. Gradually, however, the pressures of his family's financial need and his greedy wife's contemptuous taunting push Mourad to compromise his principles. The immediate consequences are a self-indulgent ``escapade'' and a romantic fixation on his beautifuland principledwidowed cousin. Unable to resume his former ways, Mourad falls into physical illness and hallucination, and ever so slowly into acceptance of what he persuades himself is the norm. Ben Jelloun's spare, lucid prose concentrates quite effectively on his troubled protagonist's unravelling psyche (though the translation occasionally permits this meticulous straight-arrow to address us in unconvincingly slangy accents). Despite its narrative and thematic simplicity, Corruption aims high. It is prefaced by a heartfelt acknowledgement of and dedication to the embattled Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer (currently under house arrest in Jakarta). And its plot, theme, and setting inevitably recall the ingredients that were mixed to much more potent effect in the novel that seems to have inspired Ben Jelloun's, Camus's classic The Stranger. The story of Mourad's fall from rectitude into compromise isn't exactly the stuff of tragedy. It has a modest cautionary power, but its ``hero'' is in no way exceptionalnor is the working-out of his fate particularly compelling.
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