Leaving Tangier is a little tricky to get to grips with but quickly picks up pace to be a very sad but memorable story of the sadness of poverty driven exile. Your memories will be of an almost Marquez like magic realism and wonderfully descriptive prose. Well worth the read.
"Leaving Tangier" is Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun's portraits of immigrants and would-be immigrants, who reluctantly leave or are forced to leave their homes and families for what is often the false promise of a new and more rewarding life in a different country and culture. These unlooked-for departures are necessary because Morocco (and many other countries) cannot provide them with any reasonable opportunity for a decent future, and these are people who are unwilling to accept that fate so early in life.
Each of the characters in this book--Azel, the handsome and well-educated young man who moves to Barcelona to become the companion of a wealthy gay Spaniard; Kenza, Azel's sister who leaves Morocco in pursuit of the perfect romance that might provide equality and security; Malika, the teenage girl who dreams of personal independence but is forced to leave school to work in a frigid canning plant; Mohammed Larbi, who because he attempts to help a young woman matched for marriage with an old man, disappears into a jihadist training camp in Pakistan; and Nazim, the Turk, who is exiled to Spain by gamblers to whom he owes more money than he can repay and ruins his own life, that of his Turkish family and ultimately, of Kenza, who believes him to embody her dream of the perfect mate--face enormous odds against success, but they all have an unusual degree of personal courage that pushes them to attempt a leap into a better life.
These stories are heartbreakingly sad and probably accurately reflect the experiences of thousands of modern immigrants who struggle to build new lives in countries where they are not really welcomed; where their cultural background, physical looks and limited education keep most of them outside the new culture and at a permanent disadvantage economically and socially. Even sadder, they are often completely disconnected from their home cultures and support systems. Marginal success at assimilation is generally the most they can aspire to. Melancholy and alienation dominate their feelings.
Author Ben Jelloun is a wonderful story-teller who does justice to the stories of his characters. This is an important contribution to understanding the plight of millions of today's immigrants and displaced people. Ben Jelloun's prose is well-served by translator Linda Coverdale.
This novel deserves to be read as it captures the essence of what life is like for immigrants both legal and illegal. The dreamlike opening and closing chapters were hauntingly evocative. Set in the 1990's Leaving Tangier is told through the various main characters each relating their own desires, doubts and feelings. Whilst this method of delivery allows Ben Jelloun wider scope to explore the various reasons why people emigrate, I felt that the book suffered from too much fragmentation. Azel, a well educated 24 year old Moroccan, becomes involved with Miguel, a very rich Spanish Art Dealer. Initially set in Tangier, the latter part of the book is set in Barcelona. Particularly well drawn out is Azel's conflict between his love for women and being kept by a gay man. There is much to savour from this book as it reveals so much of what living in another country is like for people whose own upbringing, customs and traditions differ so much.