cover image Bitter Almonds

Bitter Almonds

Laurence Cosse, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson. Europa, $146 (176p) ISBN 978-1-60945-089-2

An unlikely friendship forms in Cosse's latest (after An Accident in August) between a well-off French woman Edith, and her 60-year-old Moroccan housekeeper Fadila. When Edith learns that Fadila can neither read nor write, she takes it upon herself to teach her. Edith arrogantly assumes she can improvise a curriculum based on a few Internet searches and purchased textbooks while Fadila, coping with poverty and conflicts among her family members, has little time to study on her own. This proves to be a frustrating and fruitless endeavor as Edith and Fadila find themselves two steps back for each one forward. The novel stutters along as Fadila learns some letters, forgets them, relearns and never making any genuine progress. Fadila, who has been married three times and is treated miserably by her adult children, is the more interesting character and her struggle to survive on little money and without basic skills in a foreign country carries the emotional weight of the novel. Nevertheless, the laborious, detailed descriptions of the reading lessons overwhelm the short novel and leave little room for the characters or their relationship to develop. (Apr.)