FRANCE (**)

Faiza Guene — Some Dream for Fools (2006)

Setting: Contemporary Parisian suburbs.

What it’s about: A soulful tale of dead-beat, no-prospect life in the Parisian banlieu, and its accompanying struggles with bureaucracy, violence and racism, told with a brilliant, raging flippancy. The protagonist, an Algerian immigrant, moves through service jobs while caring for her disabled father and trying to keep her younger brother out of trouble.

It is at its most poignant when describing the small injustices, the humiliations of migrants reapplying for a residence permit, queueing from 5 AM and still waiting all day for their turn:

An old man, a Malian I believe, missed his turn because he didn’t recognise his name. The women called Mr. Wakeri, once, twice, three times before moving without any qualms to the next person.

He had been waiting there since dawn, and his name was Mr. Bakari, and that is why he did not get up. Somebody told him in bambara that they had certainly already called his name, she tried to negotiate his way to the counter, but it was too late.

He had to come back the next day.”

She starts spending time in a cafe where the waitress sees her writing her diary and thinks she is a writer, and asks her what she writes about:

Its mostly social stories, I would say. The stories of people who slave away because society hasen’t given them a choice, who try to find a way out and know a little bit of happiness.”

And that interests people?”

Rating: **

The best book from France? Two other novels stand out:

La Douleur by Margeurite Duras is a harrowing short story about the end of the Second World War in Paris. A Parisian woman, loosely connected to the resistance, struggles to cope with her husband’s return from a concentration camp, a shadow of a man. When he returns, so shocking is his appearance (his skin “like cigarette paper”, his insides visible) that his friends tear down the welcome home banners and weep. Deeply harrowing.

Another very appropriate book for these times is The Plague by Albert Camus. Whether you consider him French or Algerian, this is most certainly a book about France — the city under plague an allegory of France under the occupation.

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