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Category Archive for 'Morocco'

Though he has been celebrated by Roberto Bolano and many other Latin American authors, Guatemalan author Rodrigo Rey Rosa, has been a well-kept secret to most English-speaking readers. Of his almost two dozen works published to acclaim in Latin America, only four have been published in English, and three of those are translations into English by famed American expatriate author Paul Bowles, who was Rey Rosa’s literary mentor. Living in Morocco while he translated several of Paul Bowles’s novels into Spanish, Rey Rosa came to know the country well, finding life on the African shore of the Mediterranean markedly different from that of the European shore represented by France and Spain, both of which had claimed Morocco as a protectorate until after the mid-1950s. Rey Rosa reflects upon these changes as he presents three interrelated scenarios, in which three separate characters express their own points of view and live independent lives which sometimes overlap with other lives within the book. Rey Rosa composes these separate scenarios so carefully that each could stand alone as a short story or novella, and they are often so poetic and filled with lyrical details that critics have described them as “prose poems.” Elegantly written, The African Shore conveys much information about cultures, past and present, along with the people who straddle the worlds of Europe and Africa. The animism of the rural farmers, which infuses their lives with magical explanations; the Muslim culture, which provides comfort and identity to large numbers of people from all levels of society; and the criminality which seems to be filling a vacuum in the wake of the country’s independence from Spain and France, all play a role in the imagery and symbolism which connects the many facets of this marvelous work.

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The Moresbys are about to get “all the way into life” in ways they have never expected. Having left the United States for an adventure in Morocco, main character Porter Moresby is careful to describe himself as a traveler, not a tourist. “The difference is partly one of time, he [explains]. Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than another, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another.” This is the Moresbys’ first trip across the Atlantic since 1939, since all of Europe and much of Africa has been consumed for ten years with World War II and its aftereffects. In 1949, when they decide to do some traveling, North Africa is one of the few places to which they can obtain boat passage. In this unusual and thoughtful debut novel, Bowles takes crass Americans out of their normal post-war environment, allowing the reader to see them in a more universal context. This is not a love story, by any means, despite Bernardo Bertolucci’s attempt to make it one in his 1990 film adaptation with Debra Winger and John Malkovich. Instead, the two main characters are so limited, both in their relationships with their peers and in relationships with the wider, outside world that neither is fully capable of feeling real emotion for anyone other than self. Their trip is a disaster. One of Modern’s Library’s 100 Best Novels of All Time.

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Eerily prescient in its depiction of the overwhelming desire among Islamic populations to take action to establish sovereign Islamic governments and free themselves from tyranny in North Africa and the Middle East, this 1955 novel should have been a wake-up call to the western world half a century ago when it was written. Paul Bowles (1910 – 1999), an American expatriate who lived in Morocco for over fifty years, was an eyewitness to the uprisings which occurred there in 1954 after the French deposed the much-loved Sultan Mohammed V. The tumult that developed in Fez in the wake of the Sultan’s removal, and the many factions that evolved within the local population in response to colonial high-handedness, will strike a familiar chord among contemporary readers who are now seeing exactly the same issues being addressed by residents of many other countries in the region, with the same kind of attendant violence provoking the same perplexity among western powers. A novel to fascinate anyone who has any interest at all in the current issues rending North Africa and the Middle East.

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