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Friendship as Tragedy,
This review is from: The Last Friend (Hardcover)Friendship is very important to me, and this slim novel by Moroccan writer Ben Jelloun is an eloquent inquiry into its nature and limits. Ali and Mamed (Mohammed) first meet as children at a French school in Tangier in the early 1960s, and each narrates half the book. Ali goes first, establishing the history of their friendship, their shared interests (film, literature, girls), romantic conquests, travel abroad for university, arrest for suspected subversion, marriages, and Mamed's relocation to Sweden. From the opening pages, the reader it told that there has been a rupture in their friendship, and the section climaxes with a confusing and infuriating conversation between the two that appears to mark this ending.
This is immediately followed by Mamed's section, which returns to the start of their friendship to retell its history from his perspective. Rather than contradicting Ali's account, Mamed's story adds depth and texture to their relationship -- including his heavily conflicted feelings about leaving behind his native country. It is Mamed who encapsulates the central "problem" of such close friendship, when on page 131 he says "We were two open books. We could see right through each other, and deep down I didn't want that." And as his version of the story progresses, we learn of the secret he's kept from Ali, which is the basis of their schism.
Through this friendship and it's dissolution, Ben Jelloun explores the nature of jealousy and loyalty. Of particular interest is their friendship in relation to their marriages -- neither is wholly satisfied by marriage, and their intelligent wives are jealous of their friendship. At the same time, the book provides a nice portrait of the multicultural influences on modern Morocco, from the historic Spanish connection to more contemporary Westernizing forces. Ultimately, however, the book revolves around the question how an intense friendship evolves over time and how even the closest of people can make tragic miscalculations.