cover image A Palace in the Old Village

A Palace in the Old Village

Tahar Ben Jelloun, trans. from the French by Linda Coverdale, Penguin, $15 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-14-311847-3

Consisting of a subtle, well-paced first section and a more elaborate second that is too rushed, Ben Jelloun's latest novel feels like two halves of a story that never quite come together. Mohammed is a Moroccan immigrant who has been living in present-day France for 40 years working at an automobile plant. When not working, he is recovering from work, living "a life the same color as my gray overalls." Yet the thought of his upcoming mandatory retirement fills him with dismay. Mohammed's children, despite being raised in housing projects without a single French family as neighbors, are "assimilated." Son Rachid goes by the name Richard; son Mourad, is married to a Spanish woman (who Mohammed grudgingly accepts) and Mohammed's daughter, Jamila, is married to an Italian man (who Mohammed does not accept and no longer speaks to his daughter). When Mohammed becomes obsessed with reuniting his family in a large house in his home village in Morocco, his dream results in some unexpected consequences. Despite the structural flaws, Ben Jelloun (The Blinding Absence of Light) has created a fine character study and touching family drama well worth reading. (Feb.)