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A Palace in the Old Village [Kindle Edition]

Tahar Ben Jelloun
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The international bestseller. A novel about the powerful pull of home and the yearning for tradition and family. A novel that captures the sometimes stark contrast between old and new-world values, and an immigrant's abiding pursuit of home.

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Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 358 KB
  • Print Length: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Arcadia Books (31 Mar. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006WAYV66
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #211,581 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding novel 14 Mar. 2011
This relatively slim novel by Tahar Ben Jelloun is a wonderful, if poignant read. At the heart of the story are several themes some of which resonate with the current instability across North Africa and the Middle East. The story is a reflection on one man's life, Mohammed, who migrated from his village in Morocco to spend forty years working in a French factory only to see his children grow up, become French citizens and be assimilated by French society and culture. They not only reject the Moroccan values that he holds dear but they are also dismissive of him as a father. His outlook on life is anchored in a cultural context that has no meaning to them. He struggles to understand why this has happened as he reflects on how his own father raised him and the pivotal role of family in Moroccan culture. The author writes sympathetically about Mohammed's alienation and as the novel unfolds you feel increasingly sorry for this man who believes his children would never abandon him. He is a man who fears death (retirement is described as an introduction to death); but in many respects this is also a metaphor for the loss of cultural identity and alienation that lies at the heart of the novel. Outstanding.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short but thought provoking and moving tale 29 July 2011
By Elizabeth Taylor VINE VOICE
This is a wonderful little book but too short and therefore you are paying much per sentence. The main character is a Moroccan who emigrated to France to work in a factory. He has reached retirement age, which comes as a complete shock as he is at odds to know what to do with all that time in La France as he calls it- despite the fact that he believes in the small town in Morocco time flows so slowly as to nearly come to a halt.

His pending retirement makes him reflect on his life and in particular his relationships with his adult children all of whom have been born and grown up in France. He finds their attitudes alien and the cultural divide between him and them is quite tragic to read.

The main direction of the story other than pondering on life and why it doesn't always take the path we want is that he wants to bring his family together - and to solve that problem dreams of building a fairytale house in his home town in Morocco. But the real pleasure of this book is its evocation of the life of an immigrant, much is written about multiculturalism from a European perspective but this shows the trials and tribulations from a man taken out of his land and overwhelmed at times by the life he has chosen.

Its written in a simple and easy language, but, in using our simple man the author conveys serious messages and the hard choices we all have to make. Made all the more poignant by the Arab spring. My only gripe is the length, the rather abrupt ending and price - otherwise 5 stars for me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sad but compelling story 19 Mar. 2014
I love Ben Jelloun's books he is without doubt one of my favourite authors. What I like most about his books is he writes in such a matter fact way. He doesn't let his personal predjudices (We all have them) or emotion get in the way but rather lets his characters speak for themselves. By doing this you really connect to the people in the books he writes (Just have a read of blinding absence of light to see what I mean)

This book is no different, it tells the story of a Moroccan immigrant to France who having worked there all his life was now retiring and making plans to move back to Morocco and build a house for himself and his family back in the Berber village where he was born. A large part of the book describes his life in France and that of his children. It tells how they have separated from him and started off in their own lives in France and the different walks of life they have taken. What's so nice about how this is written is its so matter of fact, you don't see blame you just see a man telling a story of life as it is. He talks about the riots in the French suburbs, the unions in the car factory and all the various pitfalls of his fellow North Africans who have travelled to France to make a living including the prejudices they themselves have.

The main character is such a small man in character, not keen on making a footprint in the world but happy to exist within it without causing harm to anyone. At the end of his working life his only real desire now is to bring his family back together in his native village and live a happy life.

This like many of Ben Jelloun's books is a very sad tale and sometimes is hard to read (I actually struggled to get to the end because you do become emotionally attached to the characters in the book) Still its a wonderful read by a remarkable author.
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3.0 out of 5 stars book of two halves 20 Mar. 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The first 75% was stimulating, readable and informative. I learnt about the life in North Africa and in France and could relate to the people as described. The book then transformed into (to me) bizarre and disjointed writings that failed to develop the earlier parts. The 3 star is a combination of a 5 star start and a one star ending.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The rich colors of home... 4 Mar. 2011
By Friederike Knabe - Published on
..."where they make music when my mind is tired but they stay inside me..." Mohammed, the hero of Tahar Ben Jelloun's elegiac and moving story of a simple man from a small village in Morocco, feels completely lost in the fast moving, modern world. Clad in his grey work overalls, all his life in France appears to him as nothing but grey. " I love colors and I keep that to myself. I can't make my children understand it, but I don't even try, don't feel like talking, explaining myself..."

Back in 1962, the young peasant was persuaded to leave his remote village and join the immigrant labour force in France. Mohammed had to change "from one time to another, one life to another". Now forty years later, he is about to start his retirement and this new situation preoccupies and worries him deeply. From one moment to the next, it will end the years of daily routines which have made him feel safe, secure and needed. They have protected him from reflecting on his life and its challenges : "Everything seemed difficult to him, complicated, and he knew he was not made for conflicts." In this gently and simply told story, Tahar Ben Jelloun explores themes of home, immigration, faith, the social and cultural discrepancies between immigrants and their French surroundings, and last, but not least, the resultant mounting estrangement between parents and their children. While concentrating on the specific, the author's messages can be applied to similar circumstances elsewhere.

In his musings, much of it conveyed in direct voice, Mohammed recalls images of different stages in his life: his childhood, his marriage, the first ever sighting of the sea... all memories that he cherishes and contrasts with his life in France. It is his firm grounding in Islam, however, that has always guided his thinking and behaviour: "His touchstone for everything was Islam: My religion is my identity..." Tahar Ben Jelloun delicately elucidates the intricate correlation between faith and reality in Mohammed's life and, interestingly, he links it to the concept of "time". When Mohammed was young, time was structured around the five daily prayers and the year around major festivals throughout the seasons. We, as readers, can easily perceive why, after decades of time-keeping through his work at an automobile plant, he feels completely lost in these early days of 'tirement, as he calls it. How can he fill time now and in France - "a place where he does not belong at all"? Time stretches without structure, unless - Mohammed realizes - he takes on a new project: he will build a house for the whole family in the old village... Surely, that will bring his children back to him and the traditional life, as it was before, can be rekindled...

A man like Mohammed, barely literate, who only speaks his local Berber language, has never felt motivated to learn French beyond the basics. He can cite the Koran in Arabic, but cannot express an independent thought in this holy language. He has come to France to work, get paid and to return home to his village every summer and eventually for good; his emotional centre is only there. His five children, on the other hand, are growing up in the French environment and speak only French to him. The author, while seeing the world primarily through Mohammed's eyes, such when he describes his hero's attitude towards his wife and inability or unwillingness to comprehend his children, nevertheless encourages us to see beyond Mohammed's narrow and naïve interpretation of his surroundings and place his perspective into a broader context. And we, in turn, feel some sympathy for Mohammed's efforts to rebuild his life and for his taciturn, acquiescent and submissive wife.

Tahar Ben Jelloun, who also emigrated as a young man to France in 1971, is intimately familiar with the issues that face North African immigrants in France. Son of a village shopkeeper, he did well in school and was fortunate to pursue his studies in Paris after his release from prison in Morocco. He is a prolific and award winning author of many novels and other writings. He writes exclusively in French - a language he feels is better suited than Arabic for the social topics he wants to address in his fiction. Tahar Ben Jelloun's affection for the Moroccan landscape and life in the village is reflected in his use of rich and poetic imagery. The fine line between reality and mysticism becomes blurred whenever Mohammed reaches the village. For me, these passages add some of the most precious aspects in this touching account. "I tell a story in the hope that it will incite reflection, provoke thought." That indeed he does with this insightful novel. [Friederike Knabe]
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous but shattering story about immigration, identity, and family 8 Feb. 2011
By Margaret A. Mcglinch - Published on
Sometimes it doesn't take a lot of words to convey huge ideas, and this book does exactly that. In its short span, A Palace in the Old Village tackles big questions of identity, belonging, family, and religion. It is a fictionalized memoir of Mohammed, who emigrates from Morocco to find work in France, and who clings to his old culture, adapting to France as minimally as possible. His children are born and raised in Europe, and their ties to Moroccan culture are as tenuous as Mohammed's ties to French culture. Ostensibly the most important thing to Mohammed is his family, but he and his children find it difficult to relate and have completely divergent expectations of their relationship because of the cultural gulf that separates them. The memoir is set near the end of Mohammed's life, after he retires from an assembly line job and has to contemplate how to find meaning in the rest of his life and satisfaction from what has gone before.

It's not a new storyline, but it's told with exceptional skill and insight. This is one of the most gracefully written books I've ever read. I'm not given to doing this, but I read chapter four multiple times just for the sheer pleasure of the writing. It's so powerful that in places it's absolutely shattering, but it still manages not be overwrought because it's in the voice of the main character, who is more or less impassive in his recollections. It's an affecting story that deserves wide readership.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Despairing Book About an Immigrant's Hard Life 21 Sept. 2012
By Neodoering - Published on
Mohammed Thimmigrant is a Muslim from a small village in the south of Morocco who immigrated to France in his youth and worked for forty years in an auto plant. His life has been defined by his job and his children, but he has retired from the former and does not really understand the later. This novel is an examination of Mohammed's life after retirement, with flashbacks to earlier periods and many recollections of things that have happened to himself and other immigrants as they learn to deal with life in France while still yearning for the village they left behind.

There are plenty of books on the immigrant experience, but this one is unusually felt and is very well told and is filled with heartbreak. Mohammed has essentially lost his children to Europe in general and France in particular, and they and their father do not really know each other any more. Tired of France and despairing of the empty life of retirement for a man who valued his role as a worker, Mohammed goes back to his home village and has a large house built where his children can come and visit him. Then, in a fit of stubbornness and unhappiness he sits down in a chair and refuses to get up again, waiting for his children to come and visit him. I won't give away the end of the story, but it's appropriate to what has come before, though it strains credulity a bit. You end the story feeling sorrow for this simple man and his fractured, emptied-out life, and you wish him well on the journey before him.

Other reviewers have been hard on this book, so I came to it with diminished expectations. However, I found it to be an excellent read. Ben Jelloun really gets you to care about Mohammed by giving you the high and low moments in his life and by showing you the issues which shape him. I suspect other readers were disappointed by the sad ending and the difficult trials of the book in general; this is not an uplifting or cheerful story. It is a sad tale, about a man whose life has gotten away from him and now has nowhere to turn to get it back again. I like stories like this every once in a while. Not everything has to be happy-happy, and sometimes life is on the sad side. So be warned, and enjoy this book for what it is instead of cursing it for what it is not!
4.0 out of 5 stars A Moroccan Immigrant in Paris 16 July 2015
By James W. Fonseca - Published on
The story of a devout Muslim, a Moroccan immigrant, in Paris. He is a worker on an auto assembly line at Renault. He lives in the Arab ghetto projects, where the young Muslims occasionally riot and burn cars, but he has no interest in politics – he loves his job and his life. Once a year on his vacation he returns to visit family in the old village which is like going back 50 years in time. His kids are dragged along and they get bored after the first couple of days. But, in his opinion, all is well – wonderful, really. He compares his life with other in the factory, so we get little vignettes of the lives and problems of othe immigrants. Then his children reach adulthood, and he is of the age where he has to take compulsory retirement. Now what will he do with himself?

He gets the idea of blowing his retirement fund on building a palatial western-style house in the old village – no running water or electricity, mind you -- and somehow he expects his children to come visit to celebrate the Muslim holidays and maybe even live with him. Meanwhile his grown children are completely westernized – they speak French, have their own families, and two even married Christians. Are they packing up to move to the old village? When he returns to the village to build his house, and while he waits for his children to arrive, the book switches to fantasy realism as his ancestral grounds and spirits reach out to him.

The author is probably the best-known Moroccan writer. He won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1987 for a book, The Sacred Night. The book is translated from the French. Another good book I have reviewed which is about Moroccan immigrants in Europe (in this case, in the Netherlands) is The Book of Doubt by Tessa de Loo.
4.0 out of 5 stars I found myself reading some of the beautifully written passages to my family members 12 Jun. 2015
By R. Feaster - Published on
I found this book fascinating probably because I am trying to understand what is happening in Europe with all its Muslim immigrants. This book gives me insight into the struggle to assimilate and the roots of disenfranchised Islamic youth in Europe. I found myself reading some of the beautifully written passages to my family members. However, at the end of the day, it is really about something we all might face: retirement when you still feel you have something to offer and the drifting away of your children as they become adults.
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