Wednesday, May 2, 2012
REVIEW: Divorce Islamic Style, by Amara Lakhous
If you're a fan of Amara Lakhous from Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, you have to read Divorce Islamic Style. If you like post-9/11 novels that make you think, you have to read Divorce Islamic Style. If you like post-9/11 novels that make you laugh, you have to read Divorce Islamic Style. If you like- well, hopefully you get the message :-)
Divorce Islamic Style is a satire set in Rome about contemporary Italian life, immigration, post-9/11 anxiety, Muslim life and the status of women and more. The narrative alternates between two characters- Issa, or Christian, a Sicilian who speaks perfect Arabic who's gone undercover in an immigrant neighborhood as a Tunisian. He's trying to ferret out a terrorist cell for his handlers, shady men who keep secrets of their own. Then, we get to know the extremely charismatic and funny Safia, or Sofia as she is sometimes known, an Egyptian woman with a double life of her own. Christian/Issa's adventures are alternately funny, scary, weird and surreal, but it's really Safia who carried the book for me. She's married to Said, and she wants out; she just doesn't love him, and she wants a life of her own. And now that she's living in Rome she sees no reason why she shouldn't have it.
As it happens, she and her husband are on the verge of a final divorce; as she explains it, a partner in a Muslim couple has to say "I divorce you" three times for a divorce to be final. Said has already said it twice; once more and she's free. In the mean time, she keeps crossing paths with Christian/Issa and the two become infatuated with each other.
The title of the book is obviously a takeoff on the 1961 comedy "Divorce Italian Style," starring Marcello Mastroianni, and Safia finds Christian/Issa so handsome that she refers to him privately as "the Arab Marcello," but their romance might not have the brightest future. I have to say though that this is one of the funnest books I've read so far this year and I positively adored Safia. She's tough and thoughtful and smart, as well as sort of naive and funny and sweet too. I liked Christian but I was always waiting for the story to get back around to Safia. Amara Lakhous is turning into one of my favorite Europa authors and the book is really one of those that will make you laugh and make you think, and keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next. What more can you ask?
This is my sixth book for the 2012 Europa Challenge.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.