I received an advanced review copy of this title from Deep Vellum via Edelweiss. This book was published in the original French in 2012 and this English version has been translated by Emma Ramadan.
This book contains a series of short stories told by a group of men sitting around at café in Morocco. It appears that they have been friends for quite some time as there is a lot of teasing, interrupting, and jocularity mixed in with their stories. Their tales range from the funny to the rather serious and I found that the theme of being an outsider in a foreign land pervades the entire collection.
The funniest tale is the title story in which a man is sent to Belgium by the Moroccan government to make a very important deal to import grain to his starving country. The man checks into a hotel and is very nervous that the fate of his country hangs on his ability to negotiate this most important deal. Since he is only visiting for one day he packs lightly and brings a single pair of nice trousers. He is awakened during his first night in his hotel room by a horrible noise and gets out of bed to find that an intruder has come through his window. At first glance it seems that nothing valuable has been stolen from him; but further inspection by the light of day reveals that his pants, his only pair of nice pants have been taken!
The man absolutely panics and goes does to the front desk of the hotel in his pajamas to ask for help. The clerk directs the man to a charity shop which has a single pair of pants that are just his size; but the pants are a ridiculous pair of golf pants. The events of his meeting, while he is wearing these pants, are hilarious but everything does work out for the best for him and for the fate of Morocco.
By contrast, there are two rather serious stories that I would like to describe from the collection. The first one, entitled “Dislocation,” is particularly fitting for what is going on in the world as far as refugees seeking asylum and people displaying xenophobia to anyone who seems foreign. I found his use of repeating the same lines in the story very Homeric but instead of repeating epithets he repeats the entire beginning lines of his story over and over again. Each time he repeats his story he begins with the phrase, “What would it be like, he asked himself, a world where everything was foreign?” Each time he repeats these lines he adds more details about his life. We discover that the man does, in fact, feel like a foreigner because he is a Moroccan who feels more French than Moroccan and is living in The Netherlands. He is treated as a foreigner, an outsider and his walk home becomes slower and slower as he contemplates his feeling of dislocation. This story showcases Lauori’s talents as a writer as he uses an array of unique styles throughout this short collection of stories.
The final story I would like to mention is story about a couple who are from different countries and having a long distance relationship. John is traveling from The Netherlands and Annie is traveling from France and they are on their way to Brussels to spend a long weekend together. They speak different languages, grew up in different countries with different cultures but for a while they have made their relationship work. But they have both arrived in Brussels with the intention of breaking up with one another.
The language barriers and cultural differences have taken their toll on the relationship and they both want out. The best example of their communication issues is described by John who says that Annie never easily gets his dry sense of humor and by the time he has to explain all of his jokes to her they are no longer funny. This story has a surprise ending which I don’t want to give away. But I will say that this is one of the best stories in the collection.
Overall this is a unique collection of stories that I can recommend to anyone who wants to experience a wide range of literary styles in a single collection of stories.
About the Author:
Fouad Laroui (born 1958) is a Moroccan economist and writer, born in Oujda, Morocco. Over the past twenty years, Laroui has been consistently building an oeuvre centered around universally contemporary themes: identity in a globalized world, dialogue/confrontation between cultures, the individual vs. the group, etc. With ten novels and five collections of short stories written in French, plus two collections of poems written in Dutch, a play, many essays and scientific papers (written in French or English), his on-going ambitious literary output has been recognized with many awards, including: Prix Albert Camus, Prix Mediterranée, Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle, Grande médaille de la Francophonie de l’Académie française, Prix du meilleur roman francophone, Premio Francesco Alziator (Italy), Samuel-Pallache-Prijs (The Netherlands), E. du Perron Prijs (The Netherlands)