Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ben Barka Lane by Mahmoud Saeed ***

Foreign translations often present a view of an alien culture, but published-in-1970-Iraq (and banned) Ben Barka Lane by Mahmoud Saeed is more a mirror on the human condition than a vision of a particular time or place.

Certainly Si l-Sharqi is a Iraqi expatriate living in Morcco, the women wear jalaba and veils outside, couscous is a favorite food, and tea is flavored with mint. But after that protagonist Sharqi is a young teacher on summer vacation. His relationship with men is about drinking and gambling, and with women -- sex and Casablanca night life.

Sharqi struggles with women. He is infatuated with Ruqayya.
[Ruqayya] gave every letter the true value for which it was created, in the long journey begun thousands of years ago in the sea of meanings. She followed the line of its development from abstract signal until it joined in syllables, then words, then became melodies and strange, warn new meanings, in the inspiration of a unique hour.
Most other women he refuses their advances while obsessing about their sexuality and availability.
He went the last round with her but with great care, fearing to inflate her narrow waist.
With the men he is torn between morality and loyalty on one hand and social pressure and ambition on the other. He is befriended a leftist opposition leader, Si Habib, and the rich and powerful Si Idris. These two men are political opposites, but, being a young (every) man, he often is more concerned the social and sexual implications of these relationships.

I imagine this was banned in Iraq more for reasons of sex than politics. Not the book I was expecting.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Read giveaway on June 11, 2013. I received my copy on June 21, 2013. 

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