cover image Watch Us Dance

Watch Us Dance

Leila Slimani, trans. from the French by Sam Taylor. Viking, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-49330-4

Slimani draws on her family’s history for a sprawling tale of 1960s Morocco, the second installment in a planned trilogy (after In the Country of Others). The central couple, Amine Belhaj and his French wife, Mathilde, are now middle-aged and unexpectedly prosperous, the family farm having done surprisingly well. Their bookish daughter, Aicha, is studying medicine in France, while their son, Selim, is less ambitious, spending his days swimming in the Belhajs’ swimming pool­—an unheard-of luxury for the time and place—and embarking on an incestuous affair with his aunt, the depressed and beautiful Selma. In the background, following the country’s recent independence from France, Moroccan people struggle with disillusionment. The new king, Hassan II, whose reign is marked by state violence, is a constant presence. In an early chapter, Amine, gratified by the sovereign’s interest in agriculture, hangs a framed photograph of Hassan II in his office. Later, Aicha’s future husband, Mehdi, fatefully skips the king’s 42nd birthday party, during which there’s a coup attempt. Though the surfeit of characters and vertiginous plot points tend to throttle the momentum, Slimani continues to prove herself a powerful writer by delivering a convicing and immersive depiction of a complicated era in Morocco’s history. It’s an accomplished portrait of a time and place, though it comes at the expense of a fully realized family saga. (June)