3 out of 4 stars
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The Expelled by Mois Benarroch is a work of fantasy written in metafiction style, with stories within stories, using the bus as his symbolic element to represent life as a journey or a ride.
The book begins with our protagonist going home from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem aboard a bus. He is a struggling author who has finally found success for his latest book and is awaiting its publication soon. But this good fortune does not alleviate his boredom and dissatisfaction with his life: He is financially distressed and has been jobless for months. He believes his wife, who is providing for him, wants to divorce him. He is unhappy about his origin as a descendant of the Sephardim Jews, the expelled, and is experiencing increasing discrimination from other Jews and other races. Then, when he gets off the bus, at the bus station, he imagines accidentally bumping into his wife as her young self (of some 30 years ago when they first met) and starts an exciting affair with her in his mind.
The main body of the book shows him reading his novel to his mistress upon her behest. The focal story is about a bus ride from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean with around 60 people on board. In the bus, all sorts of bizarre incidents happen to two classes of people, the controlling majority (front people) and the subservient minority (back people). The incidents center on basic life issues like the right to food, use of the can, punishment for crime, freedom of religion, and racial and cultural differences. The bus eventually figures in an accident that kills most of the people on board and a terrorist hijacking is suspected.
After the storytelling is over, the book closes with the author protagonist realizing the truth about his own life, with such enlightenment happening at a bus station.
The book was a dizzying roller-coaster ride, at times losing me in its dips and turns. It was as if I were on the bus, hearing all the noise, smelling all the odors and experiencing all the bumps and roadblocks.
I finished the book in one sitting because I was hooked to find out what the end would be. The conversations are interesting, especially the different stories shared by the bus's myriad riders (representing rich and poor, sick and lonely, loved and abandoned.) Songs and music are likewise effectively used to enhance the experience of what is occurring in the scenes. But it was difficult to follow who was speaking because of Mr. Benarroch's penchant for using the first person, his many asides, and the absence of chapter breaks. I had to reread a couple of times to fully appreciate Mr. Benarroch's style and humor.
There are memorable lines from the flirtatious repartee with his young wife and the verbal exchanges in the bus. Many of the incidents and stories shared during the bus ride are absurd or repulsive (the first passenger to die named cash became a saint; the back people were banned from using the can; one passenger escaped from being an organ donor for free, to list a few) but ring true in our world where inequality is the norm. The other story told as read from a notebook is a discourse on the difficulties experienced by a Sephardim.
I believe the book is for mature readers because of the sensitive topics discussed, the graphic sexual descriptions and the writer's challenging style of prose. If one wants entertainment, this is not the book for you. You have to give it your full attention. I will wager that lovers of history would enjoy it. Personally, after reading the book, I was prompted to mull over my own life and be grateful.
I give the book 3 out of 4 stars as I learned a lot about the plight of the Sephardim Jews, and relished my first experience of metafiction. But I still prefer the traditional way of storytelling. All told, I thank Mr. Benarroch for taking me for the breathless ride.
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