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KAFKA IN TANGIER by Mohammed Said Hjiouij
Translated by Phoebe Bay Carter
Riffing on Kafka is risky business. At best, writers can hope for a knowing smirk from the K-brigade. Miss the mark, though, and they’ll be blown away by the collective sigh. Kafka in Tangier is an interesting, and tremendously fun, exception to the rule. While it self-consciously nods so hard at Die Verwandlung I’m surprised it doesn’t come in a neck brace, Kafka mostly provides a narrative frame for this biting literary pastiche that owes more to Enrique Vila-Matas than the Czech master.
Mohammed Said Hjiouij revels in his references, experimenting in form, style and tone as he shifts from chapter to chapter - a Scheherazade of sorts - each with with the title of a major novel (working some of them out is part of the fun). As for Kafka’s book, sure, Jawal, a lowly public school teacher, wakes to find himself a monster - not an insect but a hairy, simian dwarf with Bell’s palsy - and the story echoes Gregor Samsor’s at each point, but Hjiouij has fashioned from it something very much his own; a canny and searing intertextual critique of Morocco in the wake of 9/11.
Kafka in Tangier by Mohammed Said Hjiouij (Tr. Phoebe Bay Carter)
Agora Publishing, 2023