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WITH DOWNCAST EYES by Tahar Ben Jelloun


by Tahar Ben Jelloun & translated by Joachim Neugroschel

Pub Date: May 7th, 1993
ISBN: 0-316-46059-1
Publisher: Little, Brown

 From North African and Goncourt Prize-winner Ben Jelloun (The Sacred Night; Silent Day in Tangier): a lyrical, often allegorical evocation of exile--``that long and interminable night of solitude''--that's interrupted by brusque intrusions of reality that don't quite jibe. When a young Moroccan girl is entrusted with a deathbed prophecy that she'll find the treasure that'll save her fellow Berbers, she assumes a psychic burden--which will shadow her life for years--and also becomes the focus of envy. Living in a village abandoned by the young, she takes care of the sheep and her baby brother; but her care is not enough to prevent a jealous aunt from poisoning the child--a tragedy that leads to her and her mother joining her father in the Arab quarter of Paris. The adjustment to a place where ``the sky was gray, the streets painted gray too'' is not easy, but the girl soon settles down--though she's troubled by dreams of her brother and the past; by the dissonance between memory and reality; and by the difficulty of defining home. She eventually goes on to college but finds her life being taken over by imaginary characters. At the urging of a famous North African writer, she begins to write about these fictional beings, but her disturbing dreams continue. Finally, in another visit to the village--almost hallucinatory in the way she finally fulfills the prophecy--she realizes ``that a country is more than earth and houses...that the discovery of roots is an ordeal,'' and that memories can't be written or willed away. Despite flights of fantasy that are too lush and too many: an affecting mood portrait of loss and the burden of memory.