It's 2005. The Italian secret service has received intel that a group of Muslim immigrants based in the Viale Marconi neighborhood of Rome is planning a terrorist attack. Christian Mazzari, a young Sicilian who speaks perfect Arabic, goes undercover to infiltrate the group and to learn who its leaders are. Christian poses as Issa, a recently arrived Tunisian in search of a job and a place to sleep. He soon meets Sofia, a young Egyptian immigrant dressed in a burqa who lives in the neighborhood with her husband Said, a.k.a. Felice, an architect who has reinvented himself in Italy as a pizza cook.
When you're born you find a name ready and waiting
for you: "Peek-a-boo, here I am, see me? I'm your name! Thank you!" Now, let's say that the name you've been given is, for example, Karim or Gamil ("generous" or "handsome," for a boy), or Karima or Gamila ("generous" or "pretty" for a girl). So far, everything goes smoothly, no problem.
Growing up, however, you realize that the name you find pasted onto you in no way matches your character or your looks, because maybe over time you've gotten stingy, or ugly. An unresolvable conflict, or, rather, an incurable wound. You can't be generous and stingy, beautiful and ugly at the same time. And so? So nothing. The name becomes a burden to carry on your conscience your whole life. For a lot of people it's a real cross to bear.
No one can choose his own name, I mean first name. Let's say right away that it's not a tragedy; there are worse things in life, like children dying of hunger or women raped in wars. But for an immigrant...
The challenge, as well as the potential delight, in reading a novel originally written in a language other than one's own, is becoming accustomed to the flow of the writing as it relates to the traditions of the country of origin. Especially if, like myself, the reader speaks and reads only English - differences in culture, conversational quirks, viewpoints about gender, work, money, and even romance take some getting used to. Amara Lakhous, author of Divorce Islamic Style, was born in Algeria, speaks fluent Arabic, but lives in Italy and writes in Italian. While his novel has no particular literary pretense, it is a sparkling political satire set amidst a pseudo-thriller.
(Reviewed by Judy Krueger).
Full Review (760 words).
Novels and bestsellers written in English often get translated into many languages, yet the reverse is seldom accomplished in equal volume. According to the founders of Three Percent, a resource for international literature based at the University of Rochester, "Unfortunately, only about 3% of all books published in the United States are works in translation... An even greater shame is that only a fraction of the titles that do make their way into English are covered by the mainstream media. So despite the quality of these books, most translations go virtually unnoticed and never find their audience."
The situation has been improving gradually, particularly in the last several years. Literary awards often serve to bring foreign ...
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