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Youssouf Amine Elalamy. Two Novellas by YAE: A Moroccan in New York and Sea Drinkers.

Youssouf Amine Elalamy. Two Novellas by YAE: A Moroccan in New York and Sea Drinkers. John Liechty, tr. Lanham, Maryland. Lexington. 2008. xvii + 168 pages. $24.95. ISBN 978-0739-125-60-5

Two Novellas by YAE appears in Lexington Books' valuable series "After the Empire: The Francophone World and Postcolonial France," which now includes some thirty-two critical and creative works in English covering the francophone literary world from Quebec to the Caribbean. This publication brings together two works originally published in French by Youssouf Amine Elalamy, known in Morocco as YAE. An extensive introduction by Valerie Orlando, the series editor, places Elalamy among a younger generation of Moroccan writers who grew up under the autocratic rule of King Hassan II but matured as writers while the "years of lead" were giving way to a more tolerant, cosmopolitan atmosphere, encouraging literary innovation like that of YAE's Tqarqib Ennab (2006), the first narrative published in demotic Moroccan Arabic or darija.

The two narratives in this volume are also experimental, if in different ways. A Moroccan in New York (Un Marocain a New York, 1998) is a diary-like collection, "as incoherent as the city," in Elalamy's words, of encounters between an eager young Moroccan student on a Fulbright and the streets of New York. The title suggests a solemnity seldom present, as YAE happily eats at McDonald's, watches soap operas, struggles with an answering machine, reflects on the female breast, visits a Les Brown TV show and a sex club, and tries to buy condoms. Even his occasional musings on the New World Order seem to channel Woody Allen.

The second work, Sea Drinkers (Les clandestins, 2000), though more unified, is experimental in typography, narrative, and in its metafictional reflections on narrative perspective. It centers on the drowning deaths of a group of migrants headed for Spain from a small village on the Moroccan coast, an occurrence so common that it merits little attention in Moroccan or European media, yet it's precisely the lack of attention and human respect paid to the migrants that is most emphasized by Elalamy's elliptical, fragmentary technique.

Elalamy's stretched-out typography in this passage is one of several strategies in Sea Drinkers for calling attention to the problem of narrative representation and perspective, epitomized by the news photographer who frets that the "presence of bodies on shore messes up the unity of the composition." The narrative voice repeatedly revisits the problem of transcending the formulae of the media and popular culture that eclipse both the details of the voyagers' lives and the larger scene of unemployment, official indifference, and private ambition that impel the twelve men and one woman to board a wooden boat "bound for death." "This isn't Hollywood," the narrator concludes at the end of Sea Drinkers: the fate of the emigrants will continue "so long as there's a here and a there. And the sea in between. So long as there's a here and a there."

The "here and there" are the subjects of both parts of Two Novellas by YAE. If A Moroccan in New York is slighter than Sea Drinkers, the two are linked by the narrator's uniquely cosmopolitan Moroccan sensibility, which views a boy in New York rooting in a garbage can, a beggar on the streets of Rabat, and a waiter in a seaside town in Morocco through a compassionate eye. Along with Leila Abouzeid's The Last Chapter (2004), and Laila Lalami's Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005) and Secret Son (2009), YAE's volume promises that Moroccan fiction in English translation may soon become more familiar to American readers. (Editorial note: For more on Moroccan writers, see Laila Lalami's essay in the next issue and Tahar Ben Jelloun's fiction excerpt in the March 2009 issue of WLT.)

Ian Munro

William Jewell College
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Author:Munro, Ian
Publication:World Literature Today
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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