Tea in the Harem

Mehdi Charef, Author, Charef Mehdi, Author, Ed Emery, Translator Serpent's Tail $14.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-85242-151-9
Majid, the son of Algerian immigrants, lives on the fringes of French society in a dreary, concrete slum. Thrown out of technical school, he hangs out with his friends and drinks, takes drugs, vandalizes the neighbors' property and commits robberies for spending money. Charef has captured the texture of life on the street, the combination of hopelessness and bravado that marks these alienated youths, and as a picture of their despair, this first novel is a modest success. But Charef had more in mind. Early on, he notes that Majid is ``neither French nor Arab. He's the son of immigrants--caught between two cultures, two histories, two languages and two colours of skin.'' The implication is that Majid's pathological lifestyle is somehow a result of cultural schizophrenia--an intriguing suggestion, but Charef never returns to it. He shows us a little of the other side of the coin--the French intolerance that manifests itself in racial slurs and police harassment--but even that seems unrelated to Majid's self-destructive behavior. Ultimately, this is a novel not about culture shock but about the bleak world of a forgotten underclass. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 07/01/1990
Release date: 07/01/1990
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