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by Tahar Ben Jelloun & translated by Linda Coverdale

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-14-311847-3
Publisher: Penguin

After decades in France, a Moroccan immigrant yearns to return to his native village.

Retirement holds little appeal for former autoworker Mohammed Ben Abdallah, who would just as soon keep on going to the Renault plant that has been his home-away-from-home for the past 40 years. The sudden (if not unexpected) loss of his workday routine has him at loose ends, leaving him too much time to ponder his life and contemplate its end. Four out of his five children are grown and out of the house, and he barely speaks to his wife, who is also his cousin. He loves his kids, but wishes they were less European. Their disinterest in their heritage eats away at him. Coming across as a thoroughly decent man, Mohammed takes great comfort in his Muslim faith, and has nothing but contempt for the imams in his community who foment radicalism. He is still, though, a product of his culture. He disowns his daughter Jamila when she chooses to marry an Italian man, and is only somewhat cognizant of the political unrest in the French immigrant community. He understandably finds it difficult to comprehend why a group of local youths would burn down his car. And it is this discomfort with the modernity of his adopted home that spurs him to take a trip back to his village, where he is building a home. Hoping to use the house to lure his family back to the Magreb, he builds an extravagant mansion that defies both taste and common sense. Energized by his new purpose, but unaware of the reality of the situation, he slips into a mystical state that makes it increasingly impossible for the family he values so much to reach him. Jelloun’s (Leaving Tangier, 2009, etc.) haunting novel reads like a timeless fable, while taking on the oh-so-timely challenges of the immigrant experience.

Poignant meditation on the enduring lure of home and the cost of being left behind.