Review by Katelyn Scott -- Gates to Tangier

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Katelyn Scott
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Review by Katelyn Scott -- Gates to Tangier

Post by Katelyn Scott » 05 Feb 2017, 21:18

[Following is a volunteer review of "Gates to Tangier" by Mois Benarroch.]
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4 out of 4 stars
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A historical fiction novel, Mois Benarroch's Gates to Tangier tells the story of a family that is separated by distance, physically and culturally, and who--in order to receive their deceased father's inheritance--must search for an illegitimate brother they never knew they had. In a journey that will take them from one corner of the world to the other they are forced to face their own fractured lives and contemplate their sense of identity.

Gates to Tangier isn't a typical throwback and enjoy read, but explores the Moroccan aspect of Sephardic identity while simultaneously critiquing the marginalization of Sephardim in Israel. You don't need to worry if that sentence flies over your head. The book can be enjoyed for the core story it tells; a tale of a family who--on the surface--live perfect lives but in reality are struggling to keep the fractures from showing and who are forced to face these issues and others as they search for their half-brother.

The writing of this book and its structure is one of the most impressive I've ever scene. Told in first person from the viewpoints of various characters, it rarely uses dialogue indicators to tell you whose speaking. Despite this, I had little trouble in keeping track of who was saying what, primarily because of descriptive elements that the author used as indicators--one of the characters was the only one to drink or offer whiskey. The other element that helps you keep track is--ironically--the simplest; each chapter is titled with the name of the character's perspective whose telling that portion of the tale.

I also liked how the author breaks up the book by inserting what I called dialogue-poems between every few chapters. These brief interludes provided a breath of fresh air while also giving you a sense of quiet contemplation. I could never tell if these were trying to tell a story, impart a great philosophical meaning, or was a section of dialogue between two people, but they caused me to think and I enjoyed them a great deal. The book also has sections that overlap in certain areas, where aspects of an event are seen from the perspective of two different characters in the larger scheme of things. These weren't repetitive, but rather they helped you understand the different mindsets of the characters involved.

The only flaw to the book were a handful of misspellings that I found scattered throughout the story. However, since this book was translated into english, I place the blame at the hands of the translator and not the author. There are only a few of them and they don't detract from the story, but they're present nonetheless.

Gates to Tangier doesn't end how I expect it to and leaves me believing that the Benzimra family's tale will continue in further installments. I wouldn't recommend reading it on the bus, in a crowded room, or anywhere that there's ambient noise to distract you. Rather, this beautiful book with a contemplative narrative is best enjoyed curled up by a fire with a hot cup of coffee. I give it 4 out of 4 stars.

Gates to Tangier
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Post by christinac_2585 » 26 May 2017, 08:20

Sounds like this could be an interesting book, but not something I would be interested in. I like how the author did everything in first person, that is a little different with multiple characters. Thank you for your review.
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Post by k2rugman » 26 May 2017, 13:18

I've read two of Benarroch's books and I have a really hard time following his writing style. I'm hesitant to try another but your review has me wondering if maybe I'll like this one better.

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Post by N_R » 10 Jan 2018, 03:06

Thanks for this review - everything in the first person sounds like it could be quite a different sort of book to read. I think that I will give this one a go and see how I go.

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Juliet Muia
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Post by Juliet Muia » 16 May 2018, 03:14

Having done a review of the same book, I totally agree with you. One can easily enjoy the book for the core story it tells. The author is masterfully creative too.

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