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Larabi's Ox: Stories of Morocco.

This year's winner of the Milkweed National Fiction Prize joins the growing ranks of novel/short story hybrids. Ardizzone weaves three distinct story lines in Larabi's Ox, all involving Americans hoping to distract themselves from stateside problems in the disturbing beauty of the Moroccan landscape.

Henry Goodson, dying of cancer, goes to Morocco to escape the horror of an American institutionalized death. Goodson hopes to finally grasp a moment of his own creation, independent of the mundane demands of his work-shaped life. Sarah Rosen's purpose in Morocco is to demonstrate her self-reliance in the aftermath of a failed relationship. The third central character, Peter Corvino, is an embittered academic hoping to revive his career through an exchange program to a Moroccan university.

Morocco is an insistent presence in these stories. Ardizzone provides a richness of detail that lends his treatment of the country and its people an air of verisimilitude. Yet here the setting is not merely a backdrop; neither is it a foil, using the contrast of First and Third World to throw (Western) characters' inner struggles into high relief (or to make them more exotic and thus more interesting to the reader). Rather, the keen depiction of the "fourth character" seems to convey two ideas that are vital to an understanding of the book: first, that Morocco is real; and second, that knowledge of this reality is essential to the characters' self-development.

The "reality" Ardizzone creates is far more than the flat fact of Morocco's existence. It consists of the daily life and problems of individual Moroccans such as Ahmed, the guide who becomes the companion of Henry Goodson's last days. Ahmed's anguish over the touristic remaking of his culture (which overemphasizes the quaint and exotic even as it seals itself off from meaningful contact with Moroccans in a bubble of resort-ease) escapes the one-dimensionality that usually mars characters freighted with a message. He is depicted in the rich context of his family and his university studies.

Avoiding distillation into types, Moroccans present a series of surprises to the Americans. Their "otherness" prompts the definition of self and situation that leads to personal growth. For Peter Corvino, self-realization is not only an inward plunge, but also a social, public experience of fitting oneself into the world. As Corvino learns to function in Moroccan society, accepting its differences, he comes to accept his own situation.

Beautifully designed and thoughtfully written, Larabi's Ox is a rarity: a book about Americans abroad that offers the hope of some rapprochement across cultures.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Pedrick, Laura
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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