THE SCORPION by Albert Memmi


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Memmi's latest novel, the first in ten years, is a composite philosophical work with a modern pretext and a very traditional questing spirit. It concerns two North African brothers during the period of decolonization -- Marcel, a successful, pragmatic doctor, and Emile, a writer obsessed with the riddle of himself and his existence. Emile has disappeared and Marcel, charged with organizing a drawerful of writings, is forced into reluctant intimacy with his brother's mind. The chronicles, stories and confessions, seemingly random at first, slowly disclose an order as levels of a single truth which Emile has attempted to reach; and, curiously, as Marcel's resistance is overcome he begins to recognize the same impulse in himself, past and present. Their existential problem is symbolized by the scorpion in a game of torture: when it can't escape a ring of fire it stings itself -- deliberately or accidentally in frenzy? Fatally or to be briefly stunned? And of the game itself and its spectators, what are their motives and what is revealed? Obviously it takes some nerve to venture into such areas as fully as Memmi does -- risking bombast, dullness, and, not least, a frightening degree of self-exposure -- and that risk is not only the acknowledged heart of his meaning but a measure of his success. As impressive as the honest intelligence is the fact that such a range and depth of awareness have been martialled into unified and compelling fiction.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1971
Publisher: Grossman