Maybe if I were not repulsed by Lakhdar who reminded me so much of the young men who catcalled or boldly approached me for my contact details on a solo trip to Morocco, I would have esteemed Street of Thieves better. At the same time, I also checked myself if it was because I was uncomfortable with the portrayal of the darker streets that a female solo traveller usually circumvents, and which shatter more romantic notions of Morocco, Tunisia, and Spain. After all, the truth hurts, even when it concerns favorite or dream destinations.
“…I had realized that afternoon, Judit’s Tangier did not coincide with mine. She saw the international city, Spanish, French, American; she knew Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, and William Burroughs, so many authors whose remote names vaguely reminded me of something, but about whom I knew nothing.”
Still, I’m afraid I cannot agree with the blurb claiming that this novel “may take Zone’s place in Christophe Claro’s bold pronouncement that Énard’s earlier work is ‘the novel of the decade, if not of the century.’” But that’s not to say that this book doesn’t have its merits. The fact that I continued reading up to the chilling last page is proof of Énard’s prowess. The story clarifies the youth’s discontent and anti-government sentiments in the wake of the Arab Spring and the anti-austerity movement of the indignados in Spain. This one has its own special niche in political literature of the Maghreb.
“‘All young people are like me,’ I added. “The Islamists are old conservatives who steal our religion from us when it should belong to everyone. All they offer are prohibitions and repression. The Arab Left are old union members who are always too late for a strike. Who’s going to represent me?”
I simply think it falls short of the enigmatic and beautiful prose of Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants; incomparable to Compass that holds certain passages that mean to me more than I can express; and quite a distance away from the extremely impressive threnody for the last century that is Zone.
If there’s one thing that the main character of Street of Thieves definitely got right, it is this: “I think today of that dark parenthesis, that first imprisonment in Algeciras, that antechamber, when around me spin the lost ones, walking, blind, without the help of books…” How dark, indeed, to go through life without books.