A distinguished, linguistically complex narrative that examines the ordeals of a Tunisian immigrant to Sweden.
Swedish author Khemiri focuses on issues of racism and adjustment to a new life in the putatively progressive atmosphere of Sweden. The narrative structure is both amusing and multilayered, for one of the narrators is named Khemiri, who like the author is the son of a Tunisian immigrant. Another narrative aspect of the novel involves a hilarious commentary on the story of this immigrant, Abbas Khemiri, by his supposed best friend Kadir, who protests mightily against the son’s hostility toward his father. Kadir writes in a fractured English (or Swedish in the original) that the translator has captured brilliantly. Jonas, the estranged son (not to be too confused with the author), is alienated from his father’s affection and chronicles the downfall of this relationship with keen and sensitive observations. On moving from Tunisia to Stockholm, the father sets up a business of photographing pets, but to try to “pass” in Swedish society he changes his name to Krister Holmström. His embittered son considers his father a “Swediot” for even trying to blend in with Scandinavian society, and Kadir desperately tries to rescue Abbas’ reputation—not a particularly easy task, especially when Abbas eventually moves back to Tunisia and becomes a photographer of Tunisian exoticism, convincing women to pose for the “humoristically erotic” Aladdin and His Magic Tramp and 1,000 and One Tights, a shoot in which Mr. Bedouin, the character they make up to compete with Mr. Bean, “is welcomed extra generously in an oasis by seven sex-starved Saudi aerobics instructors.” While the novel is at times genuinely amusing, it also explores serious themes of cultural homogeneity, as Abbas eventually feels his son has become “nothing”—neither Tunisian nor Swedish.
Khemiri adds a distinctive and quirky voice—actually several of them—to contemporary literature.