3 out of 4 stars
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Gates to Tangier by Mois Benarroch is a remarkable story of a Benzimra family. It is a story of a family coming to terms with the death of a patriarch and a shocking revelation of an illegitimate son. The novel takes its readers on a soul-searching voyage across many countries in quest of identity and home. In search of a half-brother, Benzimra siblings take on an almost existential pilgrimage to their village, Tetauon in Morocco, where they come face to face with their past and present.
The novel deals with the search for self, the need for belonging and the tense relationship of Jews with the world. Where do Jews belong? Is Israel their home or the Maghreb? Drawing on these existential questions author tries to highlight the pain and hardships endured by Jews for centuries. The text is like a mosaic, with each piece bringing its uniqueness fits in beautifully to create a pattern on a larger scale.
The author brilliantly interweaves facts with fiction, history with the present. Through reminiscence and ever-shifting space, readers are given a rare glimpse into an ordinary Jewish family living in self-imposed exile trying to erase the humiliations and persecutions of the past. Chapters are named after siblings, each one giving his/her perspective while laying bare the true self.
At times I found the language difficult to comprehend since living and dead seem to be mingling with the words. This fragmented narrative reflects the state of minds of characters who as the story unfolds sheds layers from their skin. There is an active use of stream of consciousness as time shifts back and forth. The continuous flow of thoughts offers a subtle complexity to the plot and provides depth to the story. Such density mirrors the complex reality of the middle eastern society
Gates To Tangier also brings forth the internal conflict in Israel between Sephardi-Ashkenazi. But primarily the novel opens the door to the elusive Moroccan Jews about whom very little is known. There is not a single dull moment author ensures moments of humor coupled with underlying tragedy. It is collective tragedy shared by a community. There is an unexpected twist towards the end which makes the reading more enthralling while providing a sharpness to the text. The story abounds in internal monologues and short philosophical poems in between, thereby giving it a rare artistic quality.
I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. Gates of Tangier is an exciting mix of antiquity and present, fragmented memories, and complex realities. It is an exceptional tale of a community living in fear for centuries. It is a story of survival and existence. I highly recommend this book for readers who enjoy the genre of historical fiction.
Gates to Tangier
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