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April 29, 2011 10:13 pm
A Palace in the Old Village, by Tahar Ben Jelloun, translated by Linda, Coverdale Arcadia, RRP£8.99, 165 pages
Social realism meets magical realism in Tahar Ben Jelloun’s satisfyingly nuanced account of one immigrant’s life. Moroccan-born Mohammed has lived for 40 years in one of the run-down projets on the periphery of Paris. Now, as he reluctantly faces retirement, this simple, decent man contemplates his life, bemused by his westernised children, disgusted by fundamentalism and comforted by the eternal verities of the Koran.
Written with surprising humour, A Palace in the Old Village is both an assault on the institutionalised racism that saw Jean-Marie Le Pen win the first round of the French election in 2002 and a pointed dissection of the idea of immigrants as one uniform, alien mass.
In its final pages, however, as Mohammed returns to the old country to build a family home, the book becomes a haunting fable that shrugs off naturalism to embrace Morocco’s blasted landscape and eerie folklore.
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