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This review is taken from PN Review 61, Volume 14 Number 5, May - June 1988.

VOICELESS WORDS Abdelhak Serhane, Messaouda, translated by Mark Thompson (Carcanet) £8.95

Abdelhak Serhane was a boy in the Middle-Atlas town of Azrou when the French government relinquished its Moroccan dependencies in 1956. This troubling autobiographical novel, set in the years surrounding independence, chronicles his oppressed transition from boyhood into youth. In the novel, Abdelhak is the son of a devoutly Muslim woman married against her will, and from birth acts as a source of division between his parents. He attends a Koranic school, but is also exposed to European traditions. At eleven he runs with local gangs and visits a brothel, where he is initiated by a woman who knows his father. Filled with alternating lust and disgust he passes into his teens, shouldering increasing responsibility for a family in which his place is ill-defined, his identity unstable. The book ends with Abdelhak fantasizing about his father's death.

These details from his squalid and often desperate early experience form an Oedipal plot of which Abdelhak is the victim-narrator. As a young male he stands in ambiguous relation to the sexual and social brutalities of life, both complicit (in the painful affinity he sometimes feels with his father) and sensitively disengaged. Religion and law are bound up in a male-centred system of injustice, of which the child's mother is also a victim. She consoles herself that 'Allah will revenge us on their hardened hearts and closed minds, on men's stupidity'. Islam teaches her a language which in its submissiveness offers an effective silence (the silence which 'was always a ...

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