FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Temptations of Morocco, Redux

by CHARLES R. LARSON

Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s exquisite, but sparse, narrative, The African Shore, posits a number of identity questions for a handful of characters, all of them intersecting with one another but also (and perhaps more importantly) with their geographical locations.  First, there’s a Moroccan teenager, named Hamsa, on the outskirts of Tangier, who herds sheep but has dreams of upward mobility, perhaps even international intrigue.  Then there’s a Colombian young man, probably in his late twenties, stranded in Tangier because he has lost his passport.  And finally, there’s Julie, a young French woman, about the same age as the Colombian.  She’s an archaeologist, whose work takes her back and forth between France and Morocco.

The Moroccan setting, mostly in Tangier, comes ready loaded for Rey Rosa, who—according to the notes at the back of the volume—years ago was a disciple of Paul Bowles, who first translated Rey Rosa’s stories into English.  The two were close for many years, and after Bowles’ death, Rey Rosa became the much older man’s literary executor.  Similarities with Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky (1949) abound but, since the primary setting for The African Shore is Morocco, but there are also connections between Rey Rosa’s novel and several works by the country’s novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun, especially Leaving Tangier (2006).

In Rey Rosa’s novel, Morocco (i.e., Tangier) retains the stereotypic playground for expats that it has been in Western literature for many years.  Sexual openness and drugs, with easy availability—all of this juxtaposed against tradition and superstition, especially for people in the country.  Hamsa is lured into watching for the smugglers in the sea, which means keeping awake at night.  “He was already thinking of the various ways he knew to fight off sleep, like eating red ants or the dirt of an ant hill, drinking water with lice, or wearing an amulet made from an owl’s eye.”  That owl’s eye will become important in the plot as the story subsequently unfolds. “Everyone knew that owls don’t sleep at night and that they can see in the dark.  This was why, when someone wanted to stay awake all night, it was a good idea to catch an owl and pull out its eye.  Some people boiled the eyes in the water and ate them, or you could make an amulet with one of the eyes and wear it on your chest to keep off sleep.”

There is ambiguity about whether the young Colombian has lost his passport or intentionally left it somewhere.  Information about his past and a lengthy relationship with a common law wife suggest that he is on the run, cover-african-shoreavoiding commitments (including his job in Colombia) and that waiting for a new passport to arrive provides him with some time to think about what he intends to do next, whether he will return to Colombia.  In the meantime, he’s running out of money, living off the good will of others, getting high on kif, drinking to excess, and searching for sexual partners (prostitutes and expatriates).  That sexual exploration connects him to Julie, leading us to wonder if it is archaeology or sex that has taken her away from France.

Then there’s one more “character,” an owl the Colombian buys on the street, moving the bird along with him from hotel to hotel.  In his rather ludicrous wandering, the Colombian is connected to others by the bird, including the male lover of the Colombian Counsel, who wants to purchase the bird.  There’s a scene where a thug tries to steal the owl (in its cage), involving a lengthy chase on the streets, and finally the bird connects the Colombian to Julie.  I mention this sequence of events because the Colombian is a rather passive character, mostly pushed around by others, until a final scene when he has to act to save his life.  Even after that, the bird is stolen by Hamsa, and we can only conclude what he intends to do with it, though there is still one final link-up—this time with Julie and Hamsa, with the bird playing a significant part in their tenuous relationship.

The story is elliptical, often more suggestive than dramatic.  The North African setting (including Gibraltar) is as vivid and as enervating as the writings of Rey Rosa’s mentor.  I’ve been a fan of Bowles and Rey Rosa for years, especially the latter’s stories.    It’s a pleasure to read this longer narrative (his only novel), skillfully translated by Jeffrey Gray.  The African Shore can be read quickly, in one sitting, so when you ask for more, you’ll experience the pleasures of Rey Rosa’s equally rewarding short stories.

Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s The African Shore

Trans. by Jeffrey Gray

Yale University Press, 146 pp., $13.00

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail