cover image With Downcast Eyes

With Downcast Eyes

Tahar Ben Jelloun, Tahar Ben Jelloun. Little Brown and Company, $19.95 (249pp) ISBN 978-0-316-46059-0

Weaving wildly from past to present, from dreaming to consciousness, from Morocco to France, this is a feverish novel of connection and distance in two cultures. An unnamed Berber girl in Morocco is given the secret of a hidden treasure that is expected one day to save her family's community. After a mad aunt who dabbles in witchcraft kills the girl's brother, she emigrates with her parents to France, the colonial power that hangs over this story like a ghost. There, she becomes conscious not only of wristwatches and MacDonalds, but also of the vastness that separates her from both her adopted country and, increasingly, her homeland. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her confused awareness of love and its place in her life. Twenty years later, she returns to her destitute village to fulfill her mystical destiny and come to terms with her bifurcated nature. Jelloun's ( The Sand Child ; the Prix Goncourt-winning Sacred Night ) writing here is occasionally verbose, but his excesses are largely subsumed in this incantatory tale of culture and self. (May)