4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Andalusian in Jerusalem, written by Mois Benarroch and translated from Spanish by Enriqueta Carrington, is a surreal fictional work that deals with the formation of an identity, correct or false, and the repercussions of such. Through a series of conversations with his friends and other people he comes across, the narrator, Guillermo, presents diverse themes ranging from cultural identities, alienation and religious conflicts, to loss, friendship and essential values of relationships.
The work is narrated in a meandering way and the dreamlike surreal aspect of it renders it to feel somewhat complex and unfathomable. The degree to which Guillermo’s mind has been dissected through the narrative makes it appear somewhat self-indulgent. Also, there are multiple viewpoints and perspectives, most of which might also produce numerous interpretations if looked upon from different angles. All of these render the work to be a little abstract and hard to get into.
However, once the reader gets past this sense of disconnection, it will become clear that everything in this work is for a reason, and nothing is simply decorative. The work takes on the issue of cultural and religious identity and the underlying tension it produces in not only the Middle East, but also in everywhere else of the world, and perceives this problem through an entirely original vision. The writer presents personal relationships to evoke the theme of superficial identity as against a deeper connection which thrives when people actually try to understand each other. This conflict has been produced innovatively through relationships, which have mistaken or unreliable identities and yet manage to evoke a sense of warmth that is as real as it can be. Parallel lives and mistaken identities are basically other people who are mirror reflections of us, which means, that all human beings essentially are the same.
While this core objective might be something that we have come across before, it is the manner in which the author arrives at this conclusion, and the depth that it attains, that render the work to be so impressive. There is a sense of non-story throughout the work, and it shifts gear from surreal to absolute weird in a few lines. So eventually, we come across strange concepts like ‘water memory’, which basically means that water preserves within its molecules all the memories of its overall journey. The objective behind such unconvincing ideas is to ignite the feeling within the reader that people are ready to believe anything and can render violence without properly verifying the validity of such ideas. If we look into the issues that actually produce social violence, we will realize that most of these things are as illogical as water memory theory. The writer safely stays clear of religious themes to address this point but makes up with innovation and originality instead.
The work touches all such globally relevant important issues but simultaneously leaves an extremely intimate and personal touch. This is due to the manner in which the writer presents the narrator, dissecting Guillermo’s mind to reveal every minute details, but not making him a character that is more important than the larger themes. Consequently, we do not empathize with him, but we do understand his mental state, which resides in a dilemma of whether to trust or question his own instinct in a world that simultaneously falsely polarizes but also unexpectedly offers tenderness.
Overall, there are too many things to like about this book, because of which, I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. It presents the themes of social conflicts and hostility as a given, then finds warmth in the most unexpected of circumstances to bring home its objective that tenderness lies under the superficial currents of conflicts. While most authors might perceive this foundation as the root for serious tragic narratives, Benarroch instead perceives the situation through the scope of wit and offbeat humor. There are depth, dignity, and individualism in his perception. ‘What’s worst for the Nazis is the best I see in myself’, I will never forget this line. The book is best suitable for mature adults. There are no chapters, so reading it all at once in a single flow is the most effective way of experiencing this book.
Andalusian in Jerusalem
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon | on iTunes
Like rik17's review? Post a comment saying so!