Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Meryem Alaoui, trans. from the French by Emma Ramadan. Other Press, $16.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-8927-4679-5
Moroccan writer Alaoui’s mesmerizing debut introduces the resourceful, foul-mouthed, and spirited Jmiaa Bent Larbi. In the mid 1990s, Jmiaa’s husband, Hamid, takes her to Casablanca to pimp her out to men to raise money for his many fruitless business schemes. Almost 15 years later, 34-year-old Jmiaa is still working as a prostitute to support herself, her seven-year-old daughter, Samia, and the parasitic Hamid, who has illegally migrated to Spain. After Jmiaa meets Chadlia, a Moroccan Dutch film director she nicknames “Horse Mouth” for his toothy grin, Jmiaa agrees to consult on a script Horse Mouth plans to shoot in Morocco. Many remarkable characters people the novel in addition to Jmiaa: Halima, a sullen, Quran-studying prostitute; Samira, a loyal friend and colleague of Jmiaa’s; Houcine, the intimidating pimp who keeps them all safe; Jmiaa’s mother, with whom Jmiaa leaves her daughter; and the clients who come and go. Jmiaa’s Casablanca is full of corrupt cops and exploitative men who take advantage of the prostitutes’ vulnerability, but it is also full of friendship, laughter, and triumph, as Jmiaa’s association with Horse Mouth leads her to dream of a new life as a film star. Alaoui’s shimmering prose is funny and original; one of Jmiaa’s neighbors looks like an “armoire”; a client has “the breath of a corpse”; and Jmiaa, noting Horse Mouth’s Arabic is unusually fluent for an immigrant, says, “Normally it’s like their tongue is in physical therapy: it needs crutches to get to the end of a phrase.” Alaoui’s tale is one to savor for its language and its verve. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 07/06/2020
Release date: 09/15/2020
Genre: Fiction
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