JACOB, MENAHEM, MIMOUN by Marcel Bénabou

JACOB, MENAHEM, MIMOUN

A Family Epic

KIRKUS REVIEW

A dry wit and surprising pathos infuse this “family epic,” which turns out to be “merely” the telling of BÇnabou’s failed attempt at creating his literary masterpiece. The Moroccan-born BÇnabou’s book, at face a memoir, is, as University of Colorado professor Warren Motte says in his preface, impossible to categorize generically. BÇnabou, born in 1939, after turning away from a rabbinical calling, left Morocco for Paris, where he eventually became a professor at the University of Paris, and where, explains Motte, with his friend, the author Georges Perec, he was a member of Oulipo, or Workshop of Potential Literature, an experimentalist writers’ group. BÇnabou describes the origins of “the Book” he first planned to write as a young student in his impressions of a Morocco that “stuck” to his memory —as if the bonds that attached me to that land had refused to break.— BÇnabou had come to feel that Moroccan Judaism was misunderstood, a centuries-old world whose people, adventures, and accomplishments were unknown, unremembered. Hardly surprising, in the idea of a book, a family, and ethnographic history, he saw a path before him. But an endearing madness is revealed in BÇnabou’s self-consuming obsession with method and materials. The reader shares his initial hopefulness as he details his younger self’s ambitious plans for a family epic, founded in memory, supplemented by ever-growing mountains of scholarly documentation, what BÇnabou calls “Resources,” and formally grounded in a literary model of the past that, ultimately, eludes him. In telling the stories of his three selected ancestors, Jacob, Menahem, and Mimoun, BÇnabou realized he was caught up in a process that had no reason to end. Eventually, the book seemed less and less important. Years having passed, BÇnabou notices that his youthful project has not disappeared. He’s decided to let his book tell itself; he’ll merely hitch himself to the story and go along for the ride in this artistic tour-de-force, by turns playful and serious.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8032-1285-2
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998




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