3 out of 4 stars
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Gates to Tangier by Mois Benarroch
Translated by Sara Maria Hasbun
The patriarch of the Benzimra family has died and his family wonders why he couldn’t have taken his secret to his grave. Instead, he has commissioned his 5 surviving children to go to Morocco and find his illegitimate son in order to receive their piece of the inheritance. What follows is a series of chance encounters, mistaken meanings, and individual reflections.
In order to understand sections of the book Gates to Tangier by Mois Benarroch, it is necessary to know a bit about the history of the region. The village that the sons and daughters are returning to is Tétouan, a city in northern Morocco about 60 km east of the city of Tangier. Although the majority of inhabitants are Islamic, there are also small Christian and Jewish communities. The Jewish community is separated from the rest of the town by gates. A large portion of the modern-day residents are descendants of those who were expelled from Spain during the Reconquista.
The interesting interplay begins with the religious division present in the community. The Benzimra family is Jewish, however, the woman who bore the illegitimate son is Muslim and a Fatima (housekeeper) employed by the Benzimra family. The Benzimra family left Tétouan in 1974 and emigrated, some to Jerusalem, some to Spain, some to France. The youngest son, Israel, died in the Lebanese Civil War. Although the family grieves, there seemed to be tension whenever his death is mentioned, especially when speaking with Muslims. This puzzled me so I did some research. I won’t profess to be an expert in this area, but it’s evident that the three main religious groups found in Tétouan had major roles in the Lebanese Civil War, along with a host of smaller religious sects. The animosity begun during the conflict continues through to the present day. How can it not, with an estimated 150,000 people killed, 100,000 handicapped and 900,000 up to a quarter of a million people displaced permanently.
With this background information, I venture to say that Gates to Tangier by Mois Benarroch can be read allegorically. Although it purports to be the story of one family, each member has had a different experience, much like the people involved in the ongoing conflict in the area. History enthusiasts would certainly enjoy this book, as would the children of the survivors of the wars.
It was a complex story, almost impossibly so. While I enjoyed learning about an unfamiliar culture, there were a few translation errors and as always with such works, I expect there was some meaning lost in the translation. This coupled with my own ignorance about the peoples and history of the region detracted from my enjoyment of the book. Therefore, I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars.
Gates to Tangier
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