Friday, August 18, 2017

Review of -- Gates to Tangier

Review by Pilar Guerrero -- Gates to Tangier

Post Number:#1 by Pilar Guerrero » 13 Mar 2017, 13:30
[Following is a volunteer review of "Gates to Tangier" by Mois Benarroch.]

Book Cover

4 out of 4 stars

Review by Pilar Guerrero

Gates of Tangier is the third book of The Tétouan Trilogy, a historical fiction novel that explores the sufferings and ordeals that Jews have endured for centuries. The protagonists are five siblings of the Benzimra family from Tétouan. The story begins when a lawyer finishes reading the will of the protagonists’ father, who put his children a condition to receive the inheritance: the siblings must find their half-brother born from a Muslim woman around 30 years ago.

This clause puts the protagonists on a journey back to the village where they came from, and it forces them to confront and assume their identity and heritage as Jews, and also to come to terms with their own share of pain and suffering in life.

Even though the protagonists travel from different cities to meet at a Spanish airport and continue the journey to Tétouan, most of the plot takes place in the conversations among the characters, or in their interior monologues. These inner dialogues are powerful and portray the conflicts and the emotions that each sibling goes through. The author creates a multi first person narration technique which allows the reader to see the conflict from each sibling's perspective, so the reader can see a bigger picture of the story that none of the characters can see.

The plot develops as the characters speak and it unfolds at a steady pace on each chapter. In the third part of the story, the plot has a twist that gives the novel a new level of complexity and depth. All the loose ends are tied at the end, but the characters pose questions that may open up the story for a continuation.

What I enjoyed the most in this book were the poems between chapters, the author uses these to introduce other characters that the protagonists do not meet. A well achieved aspect in the novel is the creation of a common thread of pain and frustration in the characters about their lives and about being a Jew. All the characters mention this in their interior monologues, yet they all present it in different shades and manners, making them believable and relatable.

What I found difficult to follow were the dialogues between or among the protagonists, there was no clear indication about who was saying what, and I had to go back a couple of times to make sure that I knew who was speaking with whom.

The book contains only a few grammar mistakes that may distract from the story. I believe this is due to the translation process, I would still recommend a revision to make the narration flawless.

I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars: the story is engaging and the plot well-paced with a surprising twist, the characters talk about history as much as human emotions, making the reader feel for them. Despite the few mistakes, the narration technique is brilliant, especially in the use of poems to enrich the narration and to move the plot forward.

I would recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the history of Jews in the world. Readers interested in psychological novels may also find this book appealing.

Gates to Tangier 
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Pilar Guerrero's Latest Review: "Lady Ruth Bromfield" by Gordon Smith
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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Official Review: The Immigrants' Lament by Mois Benarroch online Book Club

Official Review: The Immigrants' Lament by Mois Benarroch

Post Number:#1 by Chrys Brobbey » 12 May 2017, 23:33
[Following is an official review of “The Immigrant's Lament" by Mois Benarroch.]

Book Cover

4 out of 4 stars

Review by Chrys Brobbey

The Immigrant's Lament is a book containing fifty-three poems written by Mois Benarroch, a Moroccan-born Israeli. Originally published in Hebrew in 1994, the English edition of the book was issued in 2016 by Moben Publishing.

The book takes its name from the first poem in the anthology. In that particular poem, and some of the others, the author chronicles his childhood in Morocco and the subsequent migration of his family to Israel. He recounts episodes of their stay in Jerusalem, and how their Israeli dream quickly became a mirage. Some of the poems cover themes such as politics, love, freedom, injustice, war, trust, and culture. The author’s tone varies from being emotional, lighthearted, angry, sad, nostalgic, and ironic to loving, depending on the subject matter of the particular poem.

Poems are generally couched in terse words; they have hidden intent and meaning that have to be deciphered. And as a norm, they are flavored with rhymes, rhythms, metaphors, similes, and other literary devices. Poems are also either written in the narrative or descriptive style. The author here uses the narrative style which best suits his purpose of telling his story to convey a message. Apart from the appropriate use of metaphors and similes, he writes in the free-verse style that avoids the use of the other poetic features that could constrain the proper transmission of his messages and feelings. The end result is that the poems are easy to read and understand.

Through some of the poems the author succeeds in arousing my sympathy to his plight as a reluctant immigrant in Israel. His frustrations come through forcefully when he writes: “I shout my right to be different/in the Israeli society.” As he tries to rediscover himself, the conflict and the ambivalence within him are portrayed when he debates: “I am religious I am not religious.” He goes on to lament: “The more I explain/the less I understand.” It takes a heart of stone not to feel his pain in reading the poems.

What I also like about the poems is the way Mois Benarrach uses them to inform, to educate and to advocate. For instance, in one of the poems he asks: “or are the statutes more still more important/than people?” He poses this question after noting that when the Taliban destroyed a statute of Buddha in Afghanistan all the civilized world protested loudly, but they failed to react in the same way for every single person killed. I got to thinking that since the Hebrew version of the book was published in 1996, the Arab Spring that started in 2010 might have taken its inspiration from the poem in the book on freedom that reads: “Nobody is going to give you freedom/you have to take it/ and take the risks.” The piece I like most is this one which is philosophical and inspirational, as well as rich in imagery: “Come come on you can cope with it/you are stronger than mountains and seas/stronger than waves and winds/We have seen bones walk again.”

As a poetry enthusiast and writer, I recommend The Immigrant's Lament to other fans of poetry. Even those who are not used to reading poems will find this book a good basis for beginners on account of its simplicity. I rate the book 4 out of 4 stars for its clarity and lack of grammatical and editing flaws.

The Immigrant's Lament 
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review of The Stealer of Memories by Mois Benarroch

Review by MaryHazelUpton -- The Stealer of Memories

Post Number:#1 by MaryHazelUpton » 01 Mar 2017, 12:20
[Following is a volunteer review of "The Stealer of Memories" by Mois Benarroch.]

The stealer of Memories

4 out of 4 stars

Review by MaryHazelUpton

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Official Book Review by Mary Hazel Upton

The Stealer Of Memories

The Stealer Of Memories by Mois Benarroch is a short but powerful novel. I rate this novel with 4 out of 4 stars. The PDF copy that I read was only 155 pages, including the book cover page, publishing information, and also several blank pages, such as used to be included in old books. The blank pages give the book a classier appearance. The cover of this book has no picture and the book has more of a manuscript look, although the margins are justified like for a regular book. This seems right also for this book, that seems to me, to be a highly fictionalized partial story of the author's own life.

The Stealer Of Memoriesis a literary novel, not a popular novel, and as such is harder reading. You can't just read it quickly like you would an action packed popular novel. Also, it is a translation. The translation is accurate, I assume, but some of the passages are written as a person who does not speak English as a primary language might phrase his sentences. There is no problem understanding, but you know immediately that the person is thinking in his own language and then translating to English before speaking. This could possibly be the result of errors on the translator's part, though, not any fault of the author's. Regardless, I see no reason for these minor details to keep anyone from reading this excellent book. I give it 4 of 4 stars because it is so good and because the author obviously wrote his unique book for love not for money.

When I searched further before writing this review, I found out that Mois Benarroch is a prolific and well respected writer in his own country of Israel. Many of his books have been translated to English and are for sale on Amazon, both hard copy books and e-books. The copy of The Stealer Of Memories that I read was translated by Babelcube. Babelcube is a publisher that specializes in translations. This service is free to the book authors, according to Babelcube's website. The book authors only have to share their royalties from the books they let Babelcube translate, and that they publish with Babelcube, with Babelcube and the translators who work for Babelcube. This seems like a good deal for the writers and worth checking out further if you are a writer.

The Stealer Of Memories is about a writer, who is also a Jewish man like Mois Benarroch. The book is divided into 5 parts. All the parts are in first person. Some parts are told from the unnamed main character's viewpoint. Some of the parts are from some of the other characters' viewpoints and are first person also. Some of these other characters are people from the main character's past. Some are people he has just met. And some of the characters may or may not be characters in the writer's own books. As the story gets more and more surreal, it is even suggested that the main character may be merely a character in his own books, or even in some of the book's minor characters' stories.

Adding to the surreal quality of The Stealer Of Memories is Mois Benarroch's unique writing style. He combines a sketchy storyline of half remembered events and present events, both his and the other characters', with numerous real people and events. I was able to look up most of the writers he mentioned in this story and they are real and famous writers in their own countries. Probably the ones that weren't easily found on the Internet, and that I didn't bother continuing to search for, are also real, but too obscure to be easily found. Mois Benarroch also uses real places, such as Zion Square in Jerusalem, that he is obviously familiar with. I didn't bother looking for all the little coffee shops, etc. that he mentioned, but I have no doubt that they are real too, and that Mois Benarroch has been there many times. There is one especially tragic chapter about the Holocaust, called Shoah by the Jews.

The Stealer Of Memories main theme is the unreliable nature of memory. The story progresses through the stories of the various characters with the viewpoint, always first person, shifting also. This provides a kaleidoscopic effect that enhances the story. The story may or may not be what the main writer character remembers. Or it may just be what other people told him happened. Or is he "stealing" the memories of other people he meets? Or perhaps he is these other people or maybe they are him?

The first part of the book is called The Autobiography Of The Stealer Of Memories. The story starts with a remembered bike accident when the main writer character was eight years old. This part of the book starts out with the memories of the main writer character, but rapidly slides into surrealism as he becomes increasingly unsure if he is remembering what really happened to him, or if he has the power to remember things that happened to other people. This part also begins to introduce the other characters and their memories as told from their viewpoints.

Part 2 of this book is titled Memories Of The Stealer Of Memories. This part fills in the life history of the main writer narrator as he remembers it, going back to his childhood. He is a middle-aged man now. This part is all in the first person and his viewpoint. Mois Benarroch continues with his surreal style, though, leaving the reader wondering if these are the narrator's real memories or not. He mixes the dream-like scenes with mention of real places and people. This technique, used throughout the book, reinforces the increasingly surreal effect of the story.

Part 3 is titled The Letter. This part is told partly from the writer main character's first person viewpoint and partly from the first-person viewpoint of a girl, Raquel, who may be real, or may just be a character in the writer's story. Or the writer may be someone else, or a character in his own story. This section is especially tragic with its account of the Holocaust.

Part 4 is titled The Return Of Raquel. This part details the writer's growing obsession with Raquel and his own writing. It is told from his first-person viewpoint.

Part 5, the last part of The Stealer Of Memories, is the shortest section of this book. It is titled The Dialogue. It is mostly a long and beautiful prose poem summing up the theme of The Stealer Of Memories. That theme is the unreliable nature of memory, and the tragedy that as time causes our lives to pass into memory, those memories may not even be real. In the end, Mois Benarroch seems to say, time takes everything from us, even our memories, and perhaps we have nothing at all left.

The Stealer Of Memories leaves more questions unanswered than it answers. If you like Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Vladimir Nabakov, or Ilsa J. Bick, you will probably like Mois Benarroch's The Stealer Of Memories also. Mois Bennaroch's style is surreal like Franz Kafka and Ilsa J. Bick. It is darkly poetic like J. G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, and Vladimir Nabokov. Like Marcel Proust, J. G. Ballard, Vladimir Nabokov, and sometimes Brian Aldiss, he writes of the mysterious and unfathomable nature of time. Like Marcel Proust he writes of the power of memory. Like Ilsa J. Bick, in her Dark Passages series, he writes about where the thin line may be between the characters in a writer's story and the writer himself.

I will definitely look for more stories by Mois Benarroch and I will keep the PDF review copy of The Stealer Of Memories in my online library to read again someday. I rate this book with 4 out of 4 stars.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review of Brown Scarf Blues on onlinebookclub

Review by Cathy Crawford 

 Brown Scarf Blues by Mois Benarroch

Post Number:#1 by Cathy Crawford » 10 Feb 2017, 16:39
[Following is a volunteer review of "Brown Scarf Blues" by Mois Benarroch.]

Book Cover

4 out of 4 stars

Review by Cathy Crawford

The world portrayed in the novella The Brown Scarf Blues by Mois Benarroch is one in which time is an elusive thing. Also, reality. Slipping from the mundane details of travel to the world of fantasy and memory and back again, the book takes us on a trip through loss, regret, and the way in which a misplaced item, even one that wasn’t really yours to begin with, can drive one slightly mad.

Written by a Moroccan poet and novelist who has lived a truly international life, the novella touches on many things at once personal and universal. The first portion of the book details, in sometimes microscopic detail, his “investigation” into how and when a scarf he accidentally acquired while on a trip to Spain for a conference of Sephardic Jews has suddenly vanished after only 13 days in his possession. We come to see that the scarf represents loss on the grander scale for the writer who has lost a sister and a best friend recently. But other losses come and go, in the confused timeline of the story’s telling, losses of expectation, of his idea of himself, of others who people his “lives”.

The second portion of the 154 page novella is a series of anecdotes revolving around a group of people who have all touched each other’s lives. The people are not named for the most part, and the reader must puzzle out which anecdotes intersect others and who is who. One is clearly the writer we previously followed who had found and lost a scarf.

The last third of the novella exists as a series of memories of the author’s childhood. Disjointed, sometimes referencing a memory twice (Tutti-frutti ice cream at La Glacial), many of them involve the simple comfort of a child’s favorite foods; locales in his home city of Tetouan in northern Morocco are listed, as are street names and beaches.
 Bufanda Blues en español

The Brown Scarf Blues moves in and out of the world of language as well, and much of it involves the use of language as these disparate parts of the world intersect within the Jewish members of Morocco, Spain, France, Israel. The writer speaks of the “mystery” of his ability to sometimes understand Portuguese and sometimes not. A story is told of an old man whom nobody can understand because he speaks Haketia, a forgotten language that reminds him of his youth. Street names, neighborhoods, tavern after tavern are named, the litany of a wanderer.

This book made me laugh out loud several times, in both recognition and delight. I couldn’t list the number of lines that made me want to text them to others to share in my enjoyment. The extended motif of the writer feeling as if he is only a character in another writer’s work and vice versa was a feeling I have every day without being able to express it. But more than anything, it is the sense of a soul in constant movement, a stranger in his own land as well a citizen of many homes that permeates the work. The scarf is both a lifeline and comfort, if only for a very short time. It is for this reason and many others that I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars.

Review -- Raquel Says (Something Entirely Unexpected )

Review by Chrys Brobbey -- Raquel Says (Something Entirely Unexpected ) 

Post Number:#1 by Chrys Brobbey » 10 Apr 2017, 01:34
[Following is a review of "Raquel Says (Something Entirely Unexpected)" by Mois benarroch.]

Book Cover

4 out of 4 stars

Review by Chrys Brobbey

One day while going about his business as a writer the unexpected happens. The author returns from a short break only to discover that an invisible hand has left him a message. It is not an incoming email, as you may think, but one typed onto the document he is working on. And to add to the mystery the message reads: “Today, and only today, you may create a person.” Create a person? How surreal! The attached condition is that the person to be created must have been born in the same year as the author, and in the same city. Could it get any more bizarre than that? So instead of writing a novel with fictional characters the author creates a person. Yes, an actual person. She is the one his female character is always based on – a woman whom he had felt close to for a long time. She lives a parallel life to him, and she is called Raquel. If you are intrigued enough you can get to know more about Raquel in the flesh, as she engages in lively flirtation with the author throughout the pages of the book “Raquel Says (Something Entirely Unexpected)”.

The book is the brainwork of Mois Benarroch. It is the version translated from Spanish into English by Sally Seward in 2015. The author in 2009 was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize in Israel, and in 2012 he won the Yehuda Amichai Prize for Poetry. Born in (Spanish) Morocco in 1959, he has since been living in Israel where his parents relocated when he was thirteen years old.

In the book Mois Benarroch takes the reader with him on a ride as he tries to re-discover and identify with his Moroccan roots. He talks about his loneliness, his feeling of being in exile in Israel and his conflicted personality. He sees his family’s move to Israel as “leaving my house alone, without my footsteps, and without my shadow.” I empathize with him about his feeling of alienation in his adopted land. The recreation of himself as a female serves as a means of escapism for him. In the guise of Raquel he lives a parallel life in Madrid and writes in his mother tongue Spanish, as if he never left his roots. His make-believe living in two worlds, two cultures thus mitigates his ambivalence.

I recommend the book as good material to gain some knowledge about the politics and society in Israel as a whole. The European (Ashkenazi) Jews have since the founding of Israel in 1948 constituted the elite class. Mois Benarroch’s parents migrated from Morocco to Israel because they are Sephardic Jews. The author alleges discrimination against his class of Jews. To quote him: “They see us as a challenge, a threat to Israeli society for not being Western enough.” This brings to mind the demonstration by the resettled Ethiopian Jews in Tel Aviv in 2015 against the perceived racism against them.

While I sympathize with the author, I get the impression that he carries his fight against the system too far. By writing “I talked non-stop to everyone about it” his insistence may be nauseating to the point of chilling the response of the powers that be. He seems to play his activist role of ‘voice for the voiceless’ overtime. No wonder that he says he is assaulted with letters and phone calls about being crazy. He becomes the problem then, instead of the solution to the wrongs that he alludes to. However, his cry is heartfelt when he laments that “They ask me to get rid of my past to be one of them. Not that I don’t want to, but that I can’t.” I will leave it up to readers to get a first-hand feel of his dilemma as they browse the pages of the book.

The style of writing is in the first person. In tone the author uses a monologue addressed to his other self. This makes the reading somewhat monotonous due to the multiple use of ‘I’ and ‘my’ and the lack of varied sentence structures. However, this is compensated for by the passion and the flow of the narrative. I find it not a book to read for pleasure or relaxation, but one that fuels thinking about cultural differences, prejudices, racism and assimilation. Sections of the book are in poetic form, and have to be read over and over slowly to absorb the meaning.

I picked the book expecting to review a novel, as identified on the cover. But I find it to be other than a novel. Perhaps the tag of a ‘Metaphysical Memoir’ may be more apt. The author admits, however, that: “Anything called a novel sells better, than those called something else.” That makes me laugh at his marketing gimmick.

I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. Immigrants trapped in other cultures will identify with the book. It is also a good source of educative information to all about Israel. I liked living in its mystical fantasy that operates in the present, past and future simultaneously. Its combination of prose and poetry makes it unique. It is rich in imagery, as when the author writes that he and Raquel live in books just as words live among pages. I leave the rest up to your imagination, until you uncover the one-in-a-pair in the pages of “Raquel Says (Something Entirely Unexpected)”. Like a twist on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Raquel Says (Something Entirely Unexpected) 
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Review of The Immigrant's Lament

Review by ElizabethR -- The Immigrant's Lament

Post Number:#1 by ElizabethR » 25 Jul 2017, 16:08
[Following is a volunteer review of "The Immigrant's Lament" by Mois benarroch.]

Book Cover

4 out of 4 stars

Review by ElizabethR

Moshe (or Mois) Benarroch's The Immigrant's Lament may be small, but it is mighty.

Even as a full length poetry manuscript, it's on the lower end when it comes to page count. However, it more than makes up for it with the powerful content. Themes of love, loss, and identity are all vividly and comprehensively explored in this thin volume. This collection of poems was translated to English and published in 2005. And thank goodness for the English speaking world—we can finally experience a full collection of Benarroch's poetry in English.

The shorter poems in the collection tend to have a common theme—that being love. In The Immigrant's Lament, Love is not some rose-colored ideal; rather, it is a characteristic that is colored by the experiences around and behind the speaker. While these poems are wonderful, the centerpiece of the collection is, without a doubt, the titular piece. It is a twenty-page tour-de-force. The punctuation, and lack thereof, is used to excellent effect. The lack of sentence structure makes the piece feel like a litany, and the repetition of phrases adds to the solemn mood of reciting the past. After a period appears, you can expect a change, however so slight, in the topic on the surface of the poem—what events Benarroch is recounting. The underlying subject remains through these changes; the exploration of the identity of a twice-immigrant, seeming separation from everything around him, confusions that take root in confusions. The piece does not culminate in final understanding or acceptance (as most of these self-reflections tend to do). Rather than reminiscing about a faded scar from an old wound, Benarroch is reopening a wound that never healed in order to cleanse it from infection.

Benarroch has a way of exploring the unconventional in an even more unconventional way. For example, as an immigrant to Israel from Morocco, he does not look back fondly at his motherland. In fact, the reader can almost detect a faint distaste for the past in Benarroch's syntax, especially when taken in the vein of New Criticism. Though I personally do not subscribe to this view, it is useful with poetry—it is, after all, an art where word choice must be precisely chosen.

Overall, I would recommend this book wholeheartedly, with a confident 4 out of 4 stars.

The Immigrant's Lament 
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Review by chrisann2780 -- Gates to Tangier

Review by chrisann2780 -- Gates to Tangier

Post Number:#1 by chrisann2780 » 28 Jan 2017, 18:56
[Following is a  review of "Gates to Tangier" by Mois Benarroch.]

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Gates to Tangier By Mois BenarrockTranslated by: Sarah Maria Hasbun

My review choice for this book comes from my long- time interest in the country of Morocco. I must admit this book surprised me because I thought it would be a different type of story, such as an exotic cultural experience. This is a fiction book. It is not an easy read. There are many ins and outs to pay attention to. If you do not read carefully you mayi lose some important details.

The story begins with the Benzimra family meeting with a lawyer to discuss their recently deceased father's will. Six-hundred thousand dollars is at stake, needing to be divided among the grown siblings. 
One of the stipulations of the will concerned an illegitimate son born to the deceased father, with another woman. The rest of his children are instructed to do everything in their power to find this lost son so the money can be distributed fairly among them. Since this "lost" child was born in Morocco, and as the family lived in Morocco at this time, the search to find him began there.

The siblings of the family are as follows. Yosuf Elbez, the missing brother, whose father left the mother when the baby was 6- months old. The youngest sibling is Israel. The oldest sibling is Fortu/Messod, a family doctor in Madrid, Spain. Sylvia lives in Paris, France. Ruth, another sibling who is married with 6 children, and currently 8 months pregnant, therefore she is unable to fly and join the hunt for their missing brother. Isaque, a homeopathic doctor, who lives in New York with a wife and son. Israel who died in Lebanon in a war there. He shows up in strange places, and in odd circumstances. There is another sibling, Alberto, who is a writer.

There is a recurring underlying theme in this book which concerns most of the character’s thoughts about the persecution and disappearance of the Jewish people as well as their traditions and customs throughout Morocco and many other countries. They felt keenly the sorrow and loss of the Jewish people who migrated to Israel and left all the countries bereft due to this culture loss.

There are two other important characters who are mentioned in this book. One is Marcel Benzimra (not a sibling of those looking for their brother, perhaps a distant relative?), and Zohra Elbaz, a gynecologist, who is hiding secrets from her 3- year boyfriend, along with other family secrets.

This book has a very good, intelligent story line; however, I was lost in the wandering thoughts and experiences of each of the characters.

There were many words the author used which were not English, and I needed to look them up to understand the meaning of what the author was writing about. A glossary would be very helpful for the reader. 

There were several areas where an incorrect word was used, which further editing may have helped prevent. Also, this may have been due to possible glitches during the translation into English.

The story is good, and I felt compelled to keep reading to find out if the lost brother was found. There is a surprise ending, which leaves the reader guessing what the outcome will be. For this reason it sounds as though there may be another book down the line.

I am rating this book a 3 out of 4 because of some editing problems, and confusing inconsistencies in the story.

Gates to Tangier 
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Review - The Expelled by Mois Benarroch

Review by Fabiana -- The Expelled by Mois Benarroch

Post Number:#1 by Fabiana » 26 Mar 2017, 04:56
[Following is a volunteer review of "The Expelled" by Mois Benarroch.]

Book Cover

4 out of 4 stars

Review by Fabiana

A word of warning: if you’re looking for a straightforward sci-fi mystery/romance, this is definitely NOT the book for you. Unless you are into hardcore metafiction, best keep away because that’s exactly what Mois Benarroch’s The Expelled is. A masterpiece of the genre, an intricate box-in-a-box literary concoction, and in each box there is a jack – something entirely unexpected, outrageous, illogical or downright absurd – and each box has its own music, pace and fragrance. Yes, fragrance. And all these fragrances put together make up a perfume that could be described as follows:

THE TOP NOTES, the ones that reach the nose first, are the opening story – the narrator meets a woman that looks exactly like his wife, and is in fact the same person, but twenty five years younger. These top notes are sharp, bold and aggressive bordering on cheap and tacky – like a disenchanted spouse dressing up as a prostitute to make a point. The effect is strident, offensive, sleazy and yet intriguing.

THE MIDDLE NOTES are the central story – a bus is hijacked by terrorists, a passenger is shot and the bus becomes a universe in itself in which society is divided into two classes: the front people, the oppressing majority, and the back people, the oppressed and complacent minority. The pace is fast and furious; the notes are screeching, dissonant, messianic, and absurd, a combination of frankincense, myrrh, toilet odors, blood, sweat and insanity.

THE BASE NOTES, the final fragrance that appears once the top notes have completely vanished, emerge not at the end, as one would expect (wouldn’t one?), but right in the middle of the book, under the form of a third box, or perhaps I should say a third Sephardic nesting doll – the story found in a notebook, that explains the metaphor of at least one of the other two stories. It smells like epiphany mixed with Moroccan bean soup.

And the main character of the book, the one wearing this strange perfume, is the whimsical metafictional text, which tells a story in itself, and contains clues to the apparent plotlines or to what hasn’t been said. The music–related “stage directions”, for instance, apart from setting the mood, are tell-tale songs that shed light on the unsaid. Although the reader’s attention is drawn in a confessional style to the storytelling/making process and the supposedly objective reality outside it throughout the entire book, this apparent openness can be deceptive and paradoxical, matching the upside-down world of the stories. Masterfully using an arsenal of literary techniques, from multiple narrators merging various first and third-person perspectives to a head-spinning mise-en-abîme, Mois Benarroch shatters the “I” and scatters it to the four winds, challenging the readers and himself to put the pieces back together.

To paraphrase his own words, The Expelled is a story about love, discrimination, indifference, fiction and reality, or reality that merges with fiction. A love-hate dichotomy between the “I” and the Others that persists even through the meta-text. If I had to explain what lies at the core of it all, what links all the stories together, here’s how I’d put it:

So you’ve managed to be part of the group, to fit in with the dominant majority to the point of losing yourself in the process. You forgot who you are, where you came from, what your past is. It’s good to be part of a dominant group so you’re doing what you’re expected to do, what the OTHERS expect you to do, not what YOU want to do. Because you don’t really know what you want anymore. But suddenly you hit a wall. You open your eyes and see that the standards conveyed as necessary for being accepted or successful are irrational and absurd. Now what?

That being said, notwithstanding the fact that the English translation is far from being excellent, and there are a few typos here and there, for the excellence of the work itself I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. It’s a roller coaster read that keeps you turning the pages and, even though eventually the roller coaster turns into a Ferris wheel and the pace slows down, in the end it still leaves you dizzy. Thank you, Mois Benarroch, for one hell of a ride.

The Expelled 
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Review by Timbets -- Gates to Tangier by Mois Benarroch

Review by Timbets -- Gates to Tangier by Mois Benarroch

Post Number:#1 by Timbets » 05 Jan 2017, 20:25
[Following is the official review of "Gates to Tangier" by Mois Benarroch.]

Book Cover

4 out of 4 stars

It can be a terrible burden and a lot to process when someone dies. When finding out about a brother that never existed until reading the will can be an overwhelming shock. Gates-to-Tangier by Mois Benarroch is a short story about the Benzimra family traveling to Morocco to find a brother they never knew. Finding their brother is the only way they will receive the money left for them.

Isaque, Israel, Fortu, Alberto, and their sister Silvia, are all Jews returning to Morocco. Morocco is a place that became exile because it is without Jews. Therefore, these siblings, have not been to Morocco in years. If it were not for the will, they would probably not have gone back at all. While forming a plan to try to find their brother Zohra, mixed emotions, confusion, and frustration combined make it hard for the siblings to want to complete the job they were given. What they didn't know is their brother Zohra is a woman. Can they complete the task to find their brother?

Zohra has been with her boyfriend for 2 years. For the longest time, Zohra was confused as to why she cannot have children even though she knows why. The reason still does not make sense to her. Zohra decides to do more research. Once she found the answer, her whole life could change. The biggest question for her is, what would become of Marcel and me?

I enjoyed the story about the siblings looking for their brother. It wasn't too short or too long. I did not find any mistakes at all. The author did a very good job relating details up to the end. The characters were also broken down to sections so that you could read about them one at a time instead of all at once. It felt like you got to know them better that way. There wasn't much I did not like about the story. I was disappointed to find out the news about Zohra, however it did make the story even more interesting. So it was a very good twist that was not expected.

I would rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I would highly recommend this to anyone, except young children. Do not let the first sentence fool you. I almost wondered at first what I got myself into. Once I got past that part I can understand why it was written that way. The only thing I would say that could maybe be different is the first sentence because not everyone likes to read a book beginning that way.

Gates to Tangier 
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Review -- Keys to Tetouan by Mois Benarroch

Review by TJ de Ocampo -- Keys to Tetouan by Mois Benarroch

Post Number:#1 by TJ de Ocampo » 19 Jul 2017, 21:24
[Following is a volunteer review of "Keys to Tetouan" by Mois Benarroch.]

Book Cover

4 out of 4 stars

Review by TJ de Ocampo

“ is it possible you're an exile, exile everywhere, exile is my home, the years didn't subdue the pain, son, you'll see, you will always be an exile, exiled from exile,...” is perhaps the line which best solidifies the soul of Keys to Tetouan, a historical fiction novel by Moroccan-Israeli writer Mois Benarroch. Penned by a poet, it is no surprise that the narrative follows a nonlinear, experimental, and what the novel itself describes, "post-post modern" format. It is a farrago of letters, interviews, anecdotes, unimagined (and imagined) dialogues concerning the Benzimra family, a Moroccan-Jewish clan that's supposedly been everywhere in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Unconventional in style and construction, it is very easy for the reader to get lost in its paragraphs and to understand very little of what's happening in and among its hodgepodge of characters. It is ambiguous, vague, often indecipherable, and yet the author does not seem to prioritize clarity or reader comprehension. When dealing with the concept of home—which at one point is argued as the source of one's identity, and at another, as something completely unrelated—the author is unapologetically confusing, inconcise and almost rude. And yet, as I write about it now, I feel it's precisely this rudeness which makes the book so offensively beautiful. Let me attempt to clarify:

Primarily Benarroch reexamines the concept of a promised land, an ideal of which he asks: "Is it truly attainable?" And he further agonizes, "If so, where is it?" Narrating the experiences and memories of the Benzimra family of Tetouan, Morocco, he juxtaposes their past with the identities they now needed to refashion in order to live in Europe and Jerusalem. He raises the questions "Who am I?" which in itself is a question of "Who are we?" and ultimately, "Who am I in relation to others?" The answers are perplexing, flooded with contradiction, and yet the author seems to be concluding: perhaps this is all that we really are—a people full of irony. "Perhaps," the author might be saying, "we Jewish people are really just wanderers in the wilderness, merely passing through."

The passages, the interviews, the anecdotes, all of these are written like fragments of a lost identity. And the book is a stream of consciousness, the thoughts of a man preoccupied with picking up these shards and arranging them into a mosaic—an attempt to depict that which is elusive. As one of the characters in the story soliloquizes, "I'll write down the lie, and maybe that lie I write about you and me will enable some truth to flourish, some kind of understanding, maybe I'll find a few more pieces of the mosaic.”

Intentionally written like a surge of memories, it is hazy, ambiguous, imperfect, and yet sentimental. It is at once poetic and meditative, reminiscent of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground and Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain. It is a recommended read for anyone looking for work that is unafraid to be raw, with edges that cut to the heart. I give Mois Benarroch's Keys to Tetouan a 4 out of 4.

Keys to Tetouan 
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