THE PILLAR OF SALT by Albert Memmi


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This reads like an autobiographical novel, as the author writes a first person narrative of a native North African Jew, one Mordekhai Alexander Benillouche, from earliest memories to sometime in his twenties. The setting is Tunis. The narrator grows up in a primitive family where Berber and Jewish traditions and superstitions commingle. Because he is a brilliant student he obtains a scholarship for high school and becomes Westernized, while still carrying the influences of his Eastern background. Conflicts between East and West, Africa and Europe, the ghetto and the middle class, poverty and wealth, primitive religion and reason"", ignorance and education, all these are developed through the story, and the narrator finds himself alienated from both extremes. As the book ends after the last war, he and a friend leave for Argentina and a last chance at a new life in a new culture. (This seems a rather unreal note in this generation.) The setting of his youthful years, particularly in the descriptions of North African primitive customs, provide the most interesting parts of the book. For the rest, the writing, in a translation from the French by Edoard Roditi, is not particularly distinguished, the theme is not gripping as it is presented, and what might have been exciting remains for the most part unrealized. However, Memmi is a young writer to watch.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1955
ISBN: 0807083275
Publisher: Criterion