An intriguing novel by the award winning Tunisian author Hassouna Mosbahi. Set in the present day “A Tunisian Tale” tells the story of a mother and son and their life in the slums just outside of Tunis. The chapters alternate between The Son, who tells his version of the story on death row after committing a horrible murder; and The Mother, who tells her version of events from beyond the grave. Each has their own world view, their own sense of the other.
The story revolves around this family and how the denizens of the slum spread rumors about the widowed mother’s weak moral character and how her twenty year old son decides to take matters into his own hands. It’s a disturbing story, being that The Son is an unrepentant sociopath, and he guides us through his juvenile exploits. The Mother, on the other hand, tells her story of her desire to rise from the slum in which she lives and to live a more respectable life without being trapped in her surroundings, anchored down with a troubled child and a beaten and submissive husband.
The novel also confronts taboos of Tunisian society and there is also plenty of history, culture and folklore mixed in with the more contemporary narrative, which in a large way, echoes one another, which is what makes this novel very intriguing to me. This is Mosbahi’s only work translated into English, brought to the English speaking world through The American University in Cairo Press (who has also published many other wonderful Arabic novels over the years). It’s a very quick read and very contemporary in feel, which is another reason why I enjoyed this book. Mosbahi holds the reader, keeps him/her turning the pages to see how it all plays out as the reader tries to determine the truth behind such an unspeakable crime. It’s also a peek into the traditional/modern conflict in Arab societies, which is a common theme in contemporary Arabic literature, I’ve noticed.
A solid read and well written novel. Recommended.